Horror at the Australian Box Office in 2014 - 5th April 2015


Disappointing would have to be the word to describe the dark genre at the box office in 2014, as we had a reduced release schedule and no blockbusters to hang our hats on. For core horror the situation was even worse with some movies not getting their scheduled cinema releases and those that did by and largely underperforming expectations. It was always going to be a lean year for those after some scares at the cinema, and by mid-year we were playing "spot the horror" flick as the cinematic chains played it safer than an English rugby player. No wonder we didn't catch much at the box office, besides obnoxious arseholes checking their phones in the cinema constantly interfering with other patrons viewing pleasure, there simply were no movies to go and see for vast swaths of the year.

The one bright note for 2014 was local movies doing well for once. Wolf Creek 2 lead the charge as four movies charted, the only disappointment being the New Zealand effort Housebound, which while garnering a lot of positive press failed to do much damage at the box office. So stellar year for the locals, fingers crossed the damage can be repeated in 2015.

In this article I will go into depth on the top ten grossing movies of the year, mention local contributions, and take a look ahead to 2015. Please note all figures are in Australian dollars and earnings are only included while movies were in the top twenty of the chart.

For the first time we are introducing icons to indicate where a movie sits in the dark genre Parthenon. One of the trends we noted in 2014 was a lot of horror sites reviewing and promoting non-horror movies, which for us reeks of money changing hands. To avoid being included under this insidious development Sminds have decided to introduce a series of icons to ensure readers know exactly what flavour a movie is rather than by implication claiming everything is a horror flick when it patently isn't. So for example an action movie with horror elements will receive an "action" icon, Reviewers are also being advised to make it clear at the top of their articles if a movie isn't out and out horror. All part of the service kids.

Taking out top spot for 2014 was the post apocalyptic sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Distributor Fox unleashed the Apes mid-July on a sizeable 579 screens. The movie opened with a solid $6.1 million, which should have been enough to launch it toward blockbuster status, unfortunately Dawn fell well clear of the line. A 2.98 multiplier could only push the movie to $18.3 million, well below the blockbuster threshold. Expectations at the start of the year were that Dawn would blockbuster, but no amount of near saturation advertising by Fox could get the film over the line. I would imagine that any disappointment Fox felt will be offset by the invariable avalanche of disc sales.

Being big fans of the franchise, well excluding the notoriously horrible 2001 remake Planet of the Apes which saw Director Tim Burton lose it completely, a couple of us rushed our local cinema on opening weekend. Both of us were impressed, walked out of the screening high fiving each other, and were already sweating on the third movie in the modern reboot being released. We weren't alone with our opinion; the RT awarded a rock solid 90% as the Critics also came to the party with of course some notable exceptions.

2014 was expected to be the battle of the titans as Dawn was likely to go to war against the "Big G" for top spot. Unfortunately for Godzilla, attempt 2 by Hollywood at getting it right, it was pretty much a one horse race with Dawn first and daylight second. Godzilla locked down second spot on the chart with Warner Brothers going earlier in the year that Fox with a May release. For some reason expectations were that we would get a blockbuster and Godzilla did duly bow on top of the chart with $6.8 on opening weekend from a solid 498 screens, the movie performing stronger than its main rival. However a disappointing 2.06 multiplier indicated that word of mouth wasn't strong. Considering the hype surrounding the movie leading up to its opening, that's a pretty disappointing result overall for the Bros.

Once again the team rushed this, being monster fans of big honking creature features, though we ended up being somewhat less impressed than we might have expected. The feeling we got was another missed opportunity in the franchise with a half arsed love story and plotlines we had seen about a zillion times before. The Big G himself looked like he should maybe cut down on the donuts, though at least this time round they got the nuclear furnace plasma right. Guess in the wash up we were disappointed at the missed steps the movie took while also being hopeful that third time will be the charm.

In early November Warner Bros released the first of the core horror movies to chart well in 2014. Annabelle was a spin off from James Wan's previous hit The Conjuring, was claimed to be based on a true story, and like the vast majority of spin offs proved to be a whole less than the original movie. The background story owed a debt to Child's Play, the Writers had a problem with basic storytelling, and the at times convoluted plot was like the ramblings of someone under serious drugs. The Bros, showing some concern about probable success, released on 166 screens, scored a solid $1.9 bow, and were surprised by a 3.15 multiplier which delivered just north of $6 million. Which goes somewhat to explaining why we increasingly get crap horror flicks being pumped out by Hollywood.

After the reviews arrived, 29% rotten on the RT for example, we questioned whether or not we wanted to spend our hard earns on yet another factious story claiming to be real. The answer was a resounding no as no one was interested in a teen oriented movie that relied too heavily on jump tactics and ideas skimmed from previous movies. I eventually caught up with the porcelain prevaricator on weekly DVD and took one for the team by spinning that shite. Got to say the cinematography by James Kniest was solid enough, though somewhat strained and over wrought at times, but that's about all she wrote. As expected Annabelle proved to be derivative, amoral in its claims to authenticity, and in a major sin - boring. I was reduced to checking my email while watching this travesty. Seems modern kids are dumb enough to believe the hype coming out of Hollywood, and are too unsophisticated to see through the advertising campaigns. This story is about as real as my aspirations, which I don't have, of being a Green Prime Minister of Oz. The Warrens were shysters of the worse kind, which makes the Studios peddling their fabrications as the truth?

You really have to wonder just how many versions of Dracula can be released into the wild before villagers appear at studio gates with pitchforks etc., Universal decided to give it one more go and surprisingly delivered a unique take on the age old yarn with Drac presented as a tragic figure forced to evil to save his family and Kingdom. Universal were pretty confident with the movie opening with a 221 screen rampage, Dracula Untold unfortunately didn't live up to expectations with a disappointing $1.9 million bow. From there the movie got into a dog fight with Annabelle and came off second best. A 2.89 multiplier did see the Distributor realising $5.7 million, which is pretty solid for a horror/action flick. Clearly word of mouth was strong, though there is the faint hit of disappointment overall, still should be enough to generate a sequel or two.

Not surprisingly none of the team bothered with this one as we have seen enough adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel to tide us over for at least another decade or two. The trailers however did look good, and eventually a disc night came down the pike. I was actually entertained by the movie, which didn't try to be anything it wasn't. I got a real Underworld crossed with 300 vibe, and would be up for the next movie. Universal have been promising us reprises of their classic monsters, I, Frankenstein proved to be less than promising, but Dracula Untold does have me sitting up and taking notice. I would put this one down as a guilty pleasure rather than an outright repeat viewing movie.

Back at the start of September Roadshow unleashed the disaster flick Into The Storm, this time focusing on tornadoes sans sharks to bring down devastation and mayhem. The Critics picked up on the similarities between Into The Storm and Twister, to be honest they were glaring obvious, and went on an attacking rampage. Not helping was some pretty weak CGI that ensured the audience didn't for a minute forget they were watching a movie. Roadshow must have had concerns, especially when a huge opening weekend of 336 screens could only muster $2 million. A 2.6 multiplier was enough to see the movie cross $5 million with an end result of $5,048,715 and fifth spot on the dark genre chart for 2014. Overall Roadshow would have been happy with the result considering every Critic and their dog were wailing on the flick, it also underlined Aussies will catch about anything that has a kick arse advertising campaign behind it.

A couple of us caught a cinema screening, we're all over disaster flicks, and pretty much were in agreement we got what we expected. This was one of those flicks were you leave your brain at the door and simply rock to the flow. Any attempt to pin down the logic was doomed to failure, but hey it had honking big tornadoes ripping a town apart. In one cool scene we got a tornado of fire as stuff inside it ignites. Yes we picked apart the plot devices borrowed from the superior Twister but still managed to labour through the romantic angles thrown in for the chicks in the audience. Not the best movie of the year but far better than those leaping onto the anti-bandwagon would have you believe.

Roadshow also took out sixth spot on the chart with the highly anticipated Wolf Creek 2, which is perhaps the first serious horror sequel Australia has ever produced. Opening up on 216 screens the movie slashed up a bow of $1.7 million and we all had high hopes the movie would repeat the dose that Wolf Creek delivered and head north of $5 million. A 2.74 multiplier fell agonisingly close with a final $4.66 result. Still a lot of folk were waiting on disc release, apparently a couple of extra minutes in the Director's cut - anyone else think this is slightly twat behaviour on the part of fans, and Greg McLean rocked out in Hollywood as his name was attached to a couple of horror projects in the winds up North. On the bright side we have been promised three more movies, STAN has financed a six part television season, and the first of the books have arrived on bookshelves. In short Australia has its very first horror franchise! I'm happier than a cosplay chick in a fancy dress shop. It's been a while since a Downunder horror flick charted so well, with Wolf Creek 2 leading a great year for local product.

I was the only one of the team who went and caught the movie opening weekend, everyone else was waiting on DVD release like big girls blouses. Must say I had an excellent time with the movie, Mick was his usual devilish self, the plot took a wider journey through the outback setting, and everything about the movie simply dripped menace. Along with The Babadook Wolf Creek 2 demonstrated the local industry is alive and well with some very talented people creating dark nightmares for the viewing population. Not sure 2015 can repeat the siege Downunder movies put the box office under, but for sure I will be in the cinema opening weekend for Wolf Creek 3.

Just as an aside there was quite a bit of controversy when At The Movies refused point blank to review Wolf Creek 2 but quite happily reviewed about every single horror flick coming out of Hollywood. I personally put this down to the former ABC show pandering to the festival circle rather than talking about the movies people were making in this Country. Here at Sminds we immediately boycotted At The Movies, joining a trend in the show losing viewing figures as a number of people were left questioning At The Movie's value and the presenters relevance to a rapidly changing entertainment landscape.

Late January and Paramount were getting in early on the horror gravy train with our regular yearly instalment from the Paranormal Activity franchise, albeit due to the expect second release in the franchise later in the year which eventually got flung in 2015. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones saw the Latino hood go up against Toby and the witches with the expected result going down. Anyways the Distributor clearly had some belief in the flick and opened on 206 screens earning a bow of $1.4 million. A solid 2.5 multiplier pushed the final result to around $3.5 million, which is well above the pass mark for a horror flick Downunder. I'm slightly surprised the result wasn't greater, and will definitely point out the reason why if Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension earns anything like the average for the franchise. Seems a long time since Icon almost scored a surprised breakout hit with the original movie, that's close to $10 million folks.

I normally catch a PA release with Smind's teenage sidekick Rob, but this time round he professed to having some DVD action to catch up with so I was solo. Not surprisingly, I have no issues with food footage, I had a good time with the flick and was entertained throughout. We get the standard tropes, things going weird at night, some new jazz - the Simon game rocked, and of course lots of jump scares to keep the audience bouncing in their seats. I particularly rocked to the movie pushing the overall PA plot arc along, well needed after the last couple of flicks, and the tie in to the original movie was a stroke of genius, in my misguided opinion. I might be in the minority here but am happy to add the site's name to a growing list of review outfits that got over the wagon train of despair and actually recommended The Marked Ones. For the record I'll be there opening weekend for the next instalment, which promises to really blow the top off the franchise. One step beyond people, one step beyond, hell yeah!

Dropping into eight spot was Sony's release Deliver Us From Evil, marketing under more "based on a true story" bollock. The movie was of note to Downunder viewers as Eric Bana had the lead role and freaking nailed it like the pro the dude is. Opening 24th July the movie disappointed with a tad under a million off of 152 screens. A 2.6 multiplier was enough to get the flick over the horror success line with a $2.6 million final gross. Not entirely sure Sony expected much more, but it was still something of a disappointment given the excellent marketing campaign thrown in the movie's direction.

Another tramp down to the cinema brought us the sorry news that all the best bits of the flick were already shown in the trailer. Still although Deliver Us Fom Evil had gaping plot holes and a tendency to go jump scare it was entertaining enough not to be punish too much. Bana delivered, the plot was risible, turn off your receiver and keep repeating it's just a dumb arse movie. Not the worse movie I saw in 2014 but far more from the best. Really wish they would drop the dumb arsed "based on a true story" line, that only works for teenage blond chicks in Bumwipe Idaho.

StudioCanal flew their horror credentials in early march with the teen chick outing Vampire Academy, and got roundly slapped in the process. The movie opened on a credible 162 screens but could only muster $722K over opening weekend as the Distributor discovered that no they weren't onto the next Twilight. A 2.5 multiplier did eventually get a $1.83 million result, but even by horror standards that was pretty poor. Hopefully this spells the end of any attempt to push this movie as the start of a trilogy of flicks as the target audience were clearly uninterested overall.

I wasn't about to pay cash to see this at the cinema or indeed to hire even as a weekly rental but I did take a bullet for the team and catch Vampire Academy via youtube.com of all places. I'm not entirely sure if that's kosher, but hey it's streaming rather than downloading from torrents, and I'm going to assume that youtube.com have their act together when it comes to intellectual property. Anyways the movie clearly wasn't aimed at my demographic but failed to adequately entice the teen chickadee audience. It singularly lacked a hot male romantic angle and got caught up in a Diablo Cody style crisp dialogue ramble that is at best tragically hip. In simple terms I was wondering if the screen writers actually know what character development means. Actually scrub that, Twilight had zero character development and made lots of dough. Vampire Academy didn't appeal outside its intended demographic and certainly didn't overly appeal to its target audience either.

Coming in at number ten was surprisingly a movie out of New Zealand! Madman hit the streets in September with kiwi mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, an interesting take on the vampire sub-genre. The movie initially kicked off on 49 screens as Madman completely misread the market and returned a solid $230k bow over the weekend. No one thought to increase the screen count as a sizeable 3.6 multiplier kicked in to raise revenue to $838k. A lot of people wanted to catch a screening of this one, and naturally our cinemas were given over to whatever shite Boredwood was spewing forth at the time. Still I guess this wasn't one for the Bogans or the wine and cheese set.

Naturally we got no screenings in the hinterland, hence why we didn't actually go see many movies at the cinema last year. I eventually caught up with the movie on DVD but on initial viewing have to say I'm somewhat underwhelmed by what I saw. Could be time and place, will give it another shake prior to reviewing. It's sitting in the review queue even as we speak, but there's a lot to get through prior to meeting up with the vamps again. Surprisingly the buzz is strong in North America over the movie, with some strong reviews coming in - but are they from the myriad of quote whores that market seems to generate year in year out? Jury out on this one folks, but two thumbs up for another local flick doing serious damage in the horror charts, fingers crossed the impact can be repeated in 2015.

Also sitting outside the top ten were three additional Australian movies pushed by second tier Distributers. Roadshow released The Rover, a post-apocalyptic thriller on a limited 41 screen run for a disappointing $450k. Guy Pearce would have attracted local fans but to be honest Shovel Face Robert Pattinson would have turned a lot more off. Review to come on this one as natural no cinema action out in the sticks, but a full points bulletin DVD release. Roadshow also crunched a better release strategy for These Final Hours, an apocalyptic action movie, with a 64 screen release strategy but could only generate $425k. Clearly Roadshow's strategy with both releases was to get the movies' names out there for disc action. A full review of These Final Hours is of course on the agenda, and I got to say the movie certainly lived up to pre-release hype.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year, from a local perspective, was Umbrella completely mishandling the release schedule of the best horror movie of the year The Babadook. The Distributor hit a paltry 12 screens in May and didn't do much in terms of expansion, realising in the result a massively disappointing $192K. Considering the movie is garnering very positive reviews in all markets, and making the top ten of even mainstream critics such as England's Mark Kermode who did in fact make it his number one of the year, Umbrella really dropped the ball on this one. We've already reviewed the flick and it's one of the best horror flicks we have ever seen, Umbrella really should be ashamed of their shoddy handling of this one.

Even by our broad definition it was a slow year overall for horror with only sixteen movies being of interest to dark genre fans. With so few movies available trends were pretty hard to notice, though gorenography and found footage were pretty light on the ground. Of interest remakes weren't represented at all and apart from Wolf Creek 2 sequels weren't happening. If anything the trend, which looks set to repeat in 2015, is for less horror to be released at the box office while more direct to DVD and surprisingly television serial horror fills the void. On the bright side, if one were needed, a number of companies are releasing classic horror fare on Blu-Ray rather than filling their back catalogues with a zillion and one remakes. Is horror on the wan? Maybe in terms of cinematic releases, though we are still going to get a regular release schedule, however there's still a million and one titles being released each year in other formats.

Looking ahead 2015 looks to be pretty light on cinematic releases either locally made or even Hollywood produced. While there are certainly a lot of quality titles on the horizon the vast majority are either going to receive very limited or straight to disc release schedules.

Titles I'm looking forward too are Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead, an Australian zombie movie, Insidious Chapter 3, The Visit - can M. Night reclaim lost ground with fans via a found footage outing, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Maggie - Arnie taking on the zombie genre, Sinister 2, The Devil's Hand, and [Rec] 4: Apocalypse. So at least some decent viewing ahead, though a lack of local titles might be a bit of a dampener. Please note all these titles are scheduled for cinematic release, along with a number of other movies, but that may change as the year progresses.

Well that's my rap of the year in cinematic horror, 2014 not the best and buffered by a number of movies with loose horror connections, let's hope things rock on more solidly in 2015. Dan will be covering the year in television in the next article, take it away big fella, I'm planning my yearly movie schedule.