Horror at the Australian Box Office in 2009 - 9th April 2010
The year was effectively bracketed by the first two of what could be five Edward loves Bella movies. The 2008 hang over Twilight rampaged through the opening months as no tween chick was left unturned by the insidious Borg like invasion of our cinemas. As the curtain came down on 2009 the sequel New Moon was doing even better at separating the gullible from their hard earns. Strangely New Moon is an even worse movie than the tripe that was pawned off on us with Twilight. Surprisingly, given the ready market for what is being called "supernatural romance", the Distributors were unable to make anything else aimed at tweenies stick. Guess we're looking at an event thing then with Twilight, on the bright side there's only at most three more of them to go.
While movies based on Meyers less than well written hack jobs dominated there were still some good signs for the dark genre with a number of movies, especially in the second half of the year, nailing respectable totals. Of course there were the usual misses, and once again local movies didn't feature high on the horizon. Given the fact that our Distributors don't exactly have a glowing history when it comes to horror releases the year overall was successful enough to keep most analysts happy with the state of the nation in horrorland.
In this article I'll have a look at the top ten grossing horror movies at the Australia Box Office in 2009, highlight the winners, shame the losers, and try to pick any trends that became apparent during the year. Let's see how the cookie crumbled in the year just gone passed.
New Moon was released to Australia cinemas with the rather clumsy alternative title The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Clearly distributor Hoyts were hoping to cash in on the previous year's blockbuster Twilight and were ensuring the target audience were well aware the new movie was a sequel. New Moon opened mid November to a record breaking $16 million surprising most people in the process. The general feeling start of year was that because the previous movie was so insanely bad the new one would be lucky to hold ground, no one gave New Moon a shot at outperforming the first instalment. An axis of teen chicks, older chicks who haven't matured past their teen years, and bogan divas helped propel New Moon north of $38 million in an unprecedented rampage from a movie with little value to male demographics. The 2.4 multiplier was handy enough and convincingly proved that sparkling emo vampire movies are not going to be all front end loaded.
The general consensus around the ScaryMinds review table was that New Moon was the worse major release dark genre movie of the year with the Studio simply taking advantage of a built in chick audience who will turn up to see anything with "Twilight" in the title. Even the unintentional humour of the first movie was missing as what should have been a six minute short was stretched and stretched and ....
Icon, delivering another surprise in 2010, went wide and held their nerve with the fiercely independent movie Paranormal Activity (PA). Icon opened PA early December to a solid $2.8 million, belying the low budget and lack of special effects in the demonic festival film. There was a serious amount of built up hype coming out of North America and Icon judiciously used Studio advertising to effect something of a blitz krieg in the opening weeks of the campaign. A 2.9 verging on 3.0 multiplier would indicate that PA had reasonably good word of mouth and overall reviews were backing the movie with some notable exceptions. It was nice to see local Reviewers not jumping on pro or anti bandwagons and actually discussing the relevant merits of the movie without resorting to tedious comparisons to The Blair Witch Project and other "found footage" films.
Mixed reaction from the crew for Icon's big horror release of the year. Thoughts ranged from "best movie" of the year to "seriously flawed vision". I personally had a good time with a cinema screening, dug the screaming Audience, and found parts of the movie almost unwatchable. PA doesn't hold up so well under closer scrutiny, but it's a heck of a ride for the first time viewer if they are prepared to turn the lights out and the sound up high.
Dropping into third spot Sony's District 9 (D9) presented a few issues for ScaryMinds in determining whether or not the dark genre could lay claim to the movie in the face of its clear Sci-Fi leanings. On the bright side the movie was billed as a local production, thank you Peter Jackson and Wingnut, thus giving us an entry in the top ten. After much debate, and drinking, it was determined that D9 had enough horror elements in amongst the violence to fit loosely into a sort of extended horror definition. Hey it doesn't pay to go with limited definitions; the horror Mansion has an awful lot of rooms you know. So pop the champagne corks, a Down Under movie cracked the top ten, doing the happy dance.
To a man, and a woman, the ScaryMinds team give D9 two thumbs up and rocked on down with it. The argument has already started on who gets to review the DVD release, we snap judged it from a Cinema screening, but since I have first dibs consider that little subject of debate resolved.
Opening Boxing Day, an increasingly important date on the box office calendar, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones failed to impress and turned in a disappointing $355k on a subdued theatre count. The news wasn't good overseas either and it looked like PJ was heading for a hiding. This despite some good reviews from the serious sites and the Critics who don't talk out of their arses. A few problems were noted with the movie but overall the feeling was that Jackson was showing something of a return to form, for those of us more in tune with the halcyon days of Heavenly Creatures before the Kiwi Director went all fantasy on us. Worries were however set aside as Sony held their nerve and kept the cinema count up as word of mouth spread. An 18.7 multiplier, yes you read that right, ensured the ending gross put smiles on our dials. Interestingly The Lovely Bones was one of quite a number of dark genre movies that tracked better in Australia than over in North America. I'm not ready to call this a quantum change yet, U.S economic woes are no doubt a contributing factor here, but I'll keep an eye on the trend though 2010.
Surprisingly, considering it was initially viewed as a chick flick, the ScaryMinds tag team were all over PJ's latest with very few problems being noted and a real interest in where PJ might go next. Another of our snap judgements, expect a DVD review in due course kids.
Roadshow got themselves on the scoreboard in October with the supposed franchise finishing The Final Destination. And if you believed that was the case then you really haven't been following your Friday the 13th movie titles closely enough. It ain't over till the fat Accountant sings in corporate Hollywood folks. Anywise the fourth release in the increasingly out of ideas Final Destination franchise cruised to a $2 million opening weekend and managed a surprising, given the shite the movie turned out to be, 2.8 multiplier. Roadshow would have been more than pleased with the $5.9 million total gross, which no doubt covered the expense of the 3D prints that were being thrown about in greater numbers than pain at a Cenobite hook jubilee.
The general opinion around ScaryMinds circles was thank god we aren't a typical horror review site; we could thus pretty much avoid any mention of Destinations final or otherwise. One for the twitter generation, i.e. those with attention spans that can be counted in the seconds.
Sony, showing some solid horror nous, went early with a 20th January release of the third of Ken Wiseman's Vamps v Lupine flicks, this one the prequel Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans. Expectations were low amongst the self appointed horror intelligentsia who conveniently forgot that there was a built in market for this franchise. An opening weekend of $1.6 million lead to a very handy final total of $4.9 million as the film generated a 3.0 multiplier. Word on the street was good amongst Underworld fans, making the general reviews something of a moot point.
Don't know what people were doing start of year but surprisingly none of the crew got around to catching this one at the cinema. Thankfully Sony didn't waste any time on releasing the DVD that allowed opinions to be formed. While no one was screaming out classic, the overview was a solid ending to the trilogy delivering exactly what was expected. I have a faint notion that one of the cooler scenes shown in the trailers never made the cinema release and was disappointed it didn't show up on an extended DVD release either.
Early December saw Sony also take out seventh spot on the 2009 ladder with the zom-com Zombieland. I actually scored some free tickets from Brimstone Press for this one, so can't complain about value for money. The movie opened to an under developed $863k that looked like it might usher in a miss for the Distributor. Sony must have ripped out the rosary beads because a 3.3 multiplier ensued delivering a solid $2.9 total gross.
Another mixed reaction on this one with opinions ranging from satisfaction to disappointment. Zombieland arrived on the back of quite a bit of buzz out of North America, so maybe expectations were raised just that little bit too much.
One of the movies Sony did flinch with was Sam Raimi's return to the horror genre, Drag Me To Hell. An opening weekend of just a tad over a million bucks disappointed a lot of the Raimi fanbois, but that's still a solid enough opening for a horror movie in this market. A total gross of $2.6 million, you do the maths on the multiplier, did manage to get the movie into the positive frame of reference, but you get the feeling Sony would have breath a huge sigh of relief. Strangely just when Drag Me To Hell looked like it had stabilised and was on track for something north of $3 million Sony pulled the pin. The final total must have been a huge disappointment for the Distributor as they had clearly geared this one as their big horror release of the year.
Opinions ranged from pretty standard to disappointed in the ScaryMinds sandpit as Raimi pretty much throw a bland cartoonish movie in our direction. The general consensus was another flick for the twitards and a solid example of what is currently wrong with the Hollywood conveyor belt approach to making horror movies.
The traditional October opening slot saw Hoyts release Saw VI on a target audience that had pretty much thrown their hands in the air after the apparently woeful Saw V. We're only really interested in the first three, Aussie involvement, so another Saw release doesn't spell "must see" over our end of the barnyard. A meagre opening figure of $914k did get leveraged into a pass mark off $2.5 million as word spread that the latest incarnation was way better than the previous one. A 2.7 multiplier would tend to indicate that reluctant fans may have decided to give the franchise another chance as some positive reviews flowed.
Not surprisingly none of the Crew have actually dialled into this flick as it's a sixth movie in a franchise that from movie number two was out of ideas. More BS to keep the franchise going is our point of view.
Coming in at number ten The Unborn was the only movie in the dark genre top ten to fail on the $2.5 million scale. Universal opened the movie in late February to $855k and had to settle for a slight miss at $2.19 on the back of a solid 2.6 multiplier. Advertising was extensive with at least one iconic, given the web's tendency to unearth the weirdest possible imagery, moment going down. There was some confusion as to what the movie was about, people with their horrordars up and running would have picked the "inspiration", and a general feeling that the film makers had got slightly carried away with their ideas and background. Read, the whole premise of the movie was ludicrous. The film did round out a very solid top ten for 2009 however, far superior in fact to previous years.
We went for a beer and pretzel DVD evening on this one and had more fun poking fun at the overwrought aspects of the film than the plot and effects delivered our way. Another run of the mill horror flick that isn't likely to be on anyone's top ten of the year.
Local dark genre movie makers were well represented in 2009 with six movies gaining some sort of cinematic release. District 9 of course went wide and was notable as one of the few locally made horror movies to have earned significant at the box office in the face of the almost overpowering product coming from North America. Madman hit out late in June with the highly anticipated digitised version of the classic Wake In Fright. The movie opened to a slightly disappointing $25k but then legged it through a number of months to gain a 10.9 multiplier and a resounding $278k at the Box Office. Considering the slow start that's quite an achievement with Madman holding their nerve throughout the cinema run and delivering a pretty mouth watering DVD package late in the year. The Distributor also hit out with Van Dieman's Land in September with a $40k opening weekend and an effective $265k closing balance. Another in the seemingly never ending dramatisations centering around one Mr Pearce the movie took full advantage of the natural beauty of the Tasmanian locations.
A.I entered the dark genre fray in late October with what promised to be an upgrade on a classic horror trope. Unfortunately Coffin Rock failed to find much of an audience with an $11.3k opening weekend and a low $31.3k total gross. Anticipation in horror circles remains reasonably high as we wait on a DVD release. DAR managed somehow to totally cock up the much anticipated Lake Mungo with the movie only gaining a severely limited cinema run. Late July saw an absurd opening weekend of $4.5k for a shocking total of $25.6k. One wonders what our local film makers have to do in order to get the bogan population out of the yank movies and into our own. A truly disappointing result, doubly so when we consider the southern cross tattooed hordes showed up on mass for Paranormal Activity but couldn't get off their arses to see Lake Mungo. So much for flag waving patriots, that only seems to go so far folks. Okay soapbox put away for this article.
To round out the local assault on the box office two movies simply failed to get anything happening. Prey disintegrated on Sydney screens as Reviewers and Critics alike couldn't believe how bad the movie actually was. From a superior script by John V Soto the Director managed to concoct something even The Asylum would have been hard pressed to sign off on. Strangely Crush, Written and Directed by John V. Soto, had a rebel rousing opening weekend in Perth, scoring highest screen average and looking solid for national release, but failed to gain a Nationwide release. The Distributor's showed up but things didn't pan out. Pity as with the right marketing we might have seen something happening there.
Overall it was a solid enough year for both the dark genre as a whole and for the local industry. The signs were good that just maybe in 2010 people could be convinced to catch one of our own movies rather than simply being the fodder the Hollywood studio system demands. At the top of the chart New Moon, Paranormal Activity, and District 9 all surprised, outdoing start of year expectations. The Lovely Bones wobbled for a while but turned in a solid result as the curtain came down, and the latest instalments in the Final Destination and Underworld franchises impressed dollar wise. At the other end of the chart Let The Right One In, Wake In Fright, and Van Diemen's Land threw off the shackles to make an impact in limited release. To a certain degree it could be argued that the Distributors got it right in 2009, with a number of movies not gaining a cinematic release that didn't deserve it. I'm not going to mention any names here *cough*Rob Zombie*cough* but most horror fans will be aware of the movies.
Of course this must be tempered by the movies the Distributors got completely wrong. The Uninvited didn't work for Paramount, and was never going to considering they gave the fracking plot away in the trailers. To a certain degree Paramount were on a hiding to nothing here; the movie was a remake of a well respected Korean effort (A Tale of Two Sisters), certain sites had given away the major shock, and the perception was that the movie was just another scary film out of Hollywood with nothing new to bring to the table. Icon, who have a tendency to dabble from time to time in dark waters - usually catching something good, couldn't find an audience for The Box, though the marketing was all over the shop in defining the movie for potential viewers. Always a mistake when it comes to speculative films folks, we need to know what we are going in for else we simply won't bother.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year was reserved for remake Friday the 13th, a movie that singularly failed to gain even a 2.0 multiplier, and which must have left Paramount scratching their heads. Considering the continued release of past movies in the long running franchise in various stand alone and compilation packages there must be a market, so what went wrong? From my own perspective, and I own the whole F13th shooting box of previous movies, I wasn't up for a glossy Yank remake of what should be a gritty low budget experience. A number of people I spoke to cited Freddy vs Jason as a deal breaker with anything involving either character, and finally a few people voiced dismay at yet another remake of a slasher film. Whatever the reason Friday the 13th simply failed the box office test. An in depth look at the whole affair can be found right here.
At the bottom end of the chart, and besides the local movies that didn't fare so well, The Midnight Meat Train failed to find an audience, AntiChrist couldn't shrug off its art house image, and Dorian Gray bucked the recent trend of classic literature making a come back. Not as many victims as in previous years, but enough to indicate that the horror goldmine isn't necessarily going to deliver riches on each visit.
A number of trends were either reinforced or became apparent during the year. Clearly the bogue and bogan demographics are going to take anything with Twilight attached to it flung in their direction without realising they are going to end up covered in poo. Here at ScaryMinds we can understand young teen chicks getting into this undeveloped mash, but c'mon people over the age of about fifteen! Needless to say Eclipse will top the dark genre chart in 2010 with the fanatics rampaging down the multiplexes cause Edward really understands them or something. It's like an outbreak of zombies, except with fewer brains. 3D technology is here in a big way and unfortunately is going to capture the imagination of the uninformed. Who needs an actual movie when you can have things popping off the screen at you, exhibit A the excruciatingly bad My Bloody Valentine 3D, a remake that makes the original look like it should have swept the Oscars. Following on from previous years gorenography isn't the box office dynamo some thought it would be; wonder if the Distributors have worked that one out yet? And sequels are still big business and remain bankable commodities.
While it was a good year at the box office, and a number of movies will be making their way to people's fond memory lists, I was left with the feeling that we are waiting on the big one to arrive. It's been a few years since an out and out horror movie has gone huge and the clock is ticking folks. Twilight became a religion over the year, for both the supporters and haters, and looks to be going full speed ahead. There's a limited life expectancy to this rubbish and they are getting the movies out at a fair clip. Reputations to be made, reputations to be destroyed there. A final observation on the state of the nation folks. While the International Industries seem to be forging ahead with new and unique visions the dumbing down of North America is almost complete, seems any conveyor belt movie coming out of Hollywood will gain vocal North American support, no matter how mundane, no matter how plastic and false, just as long as that movie has Sam Raimi's name attached to it.
With another bumper crop of local horror movies slatted for 2010 the year ahead looks bright enough to require some shades. Let's take the journey together and see what dark delights await us, just off the path, in that patch of midnight. ScaryMind's will be out beating the bushes for ya.