2017: The Biggest Year in Horror History
This year, scary clowns, scary dolls and scary suburbanites have drawn audiences to the movies in droves. Even with two months remaining, 2017 has already become the biggest box office year ever for horror. Scary movies have collected $733 million in ticket sales, according to the website Box Office Mojo. The runaway success of “It” (more than $300 million and counting) and “Get Out” ($175 million) led the way, but October is a golden month for horror and will surely add more to that tally. “Happy Death Day” was No. 1 when it opened this month (on Friday the 13th), and a new entry in the hit “Saw” franchise, “Jigsaw” (due Oct. 27), should also raise the total.
How has horror fared at the box office in previous decades? Going back to the 1970s, I used data from Box Office Mojo to track the genre’s rise as a moneymaking force, focusing on one key year from each decade. Box Office Mojo breaks horror down into 10 subcategories on its site and its editor, Brad Brevet, has struggled with the question of what constitutes a horror movie. He tried to bring some clarity with a new list. “When ‘It’ came out I created an R-rated horror list on Mojo,” he wrote in an email. “That, at least, felt representative of the horror genre.”
We used the R-rated list as a reference point, but the highest-grossing year for each decade is based on figures collected from all the films the site considers horror. Also, these numbers have not been adjusted for inflation (which would turn “The Exorcist” into a $983 million earner).
Biggest Year: 1973, $232.9 million
In the early 1970s, horror broke into the mainstream in a big way, primarily with the astronomical success of “The Exorcist” in 1973, which alone topped the collective total of any box office year in the decade. That movie aside, horror didn’t make much of an impression that year. And it was really films released later in the decade that would prove pivotal. The popularity of “Halloween” in 1978 ($47 million) showed that slasher films could be a force. And 1979 brought the blockbuster haunted house scares of “The Amityville Horror” ($86.4 million) and the influential space scares of “Alien” ($80.9 million). That film captured a mass audience with a return of sorts to the creature features of classic horror.
Biggest Year: 1987, $293.6 million
The slasher genre came into its own in the ’80s, with the introduction of Jason in “Friday the 13th” (1980) and Freddy in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984). Those franchises produced buckets of blood and cash ($380.6 million total for “Friday” and $370.5 million for “Elm Street”). 1987 was one of the decade’s most profitable. “Elm Street” was in its third installment ($44 million), “The Lost Boys” added young vampire thrills to the mix ($32 million) and the action horror of “Predator” (a movie that probably wouldn’t have existed without the success of “Alien”) brought in strong numbers ($59 million).
Biggest Year: 1999, $574.6 million
Biggest Year: 2000, $617.7 million