Why Horror Movies Are So Profitable

Here’s a look at how horror films are scaring up some major profits frightening the bejeezus out of people.
Monday 22 October 2018
"We all float down here. Hello Georgie, don’t you want a balloon?" Photo: Warner Bros

These films are a staple during Halloween (or during the Hungry Ghost month) when audiences seek out a good old scare. According to US business magazine Fast Company, the budget for making a movie that raises goosebumps can be quite low as they are usually filmed in just one location (think The Shining, The Blair Witch Project and horror franchise Paranormal Activity) with few, if any, major stars.

Budgets hover around the US$5 million mark (less if it’s done in Asia), which is significantly less than most major Hollywood films with budgets that can swell to over US$150 million, or mid-budget dramas which cost about US$30 million and up. Plus spooky movies tend to do well overseas – you really don’t need subtitles to make you scream.

You can’t have a list of horror movies without including the highest grossing (or grossest) horror flick of all time. The 2017 Stephen King remake earned a whopping US$700 million worldwide – beating out many other blockbusters of different genres. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the US$30 million film adaptation owes its success largely to viewers between the ages of 13 and 17 as the film’s R rating is an added cool factor for the young. IT showed the world that a horror movie remake doesn’t necessarily have to float dead in the water; it could balloon into a huge success. In terms of making serious money, IT sure isn’t clowning around.

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Don’t look in the bagua! Photo: ABS-CBN Film Productions


Over in the Philippines, Feng Shui 2 is one of the top grossing horror films of all time, earning around P244 million (US$4.5 million) in 2014. The film centres around a cursed ‘Bagua’ mirror, and anyone who stares into it is killed off in different ways, depending on their Chinese zodiac sign. It is also worth noting that the original Feng Shui (2004) grossed P114.2mil (US$2.1 million) at a time when horror movies were raking in big bucks in Southeast Asia, which places the Philippines as a potential new (and untapped) horror movie market, as long as they get their feng shui right.

Speaking of remakes, many may remember our October cover boy Ananda Everingham from the hit 2004 Thai horror flick, Shutter. Unfortunately, this Asian horror classic only grossed US$6.9 million at the box office, a measly sum compared to its English remake which made US$24.9 million. Centred around the premise that photos can capture the afterlife, selfie-obsessed millennials may find this story the stuff of nightmares! Like other western remakes of Asian horror classics (The Ring, Ju-On), ‘developing’ western versions has proven to be a viable take for the studios.

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Hantu Kak Limah marks a comeback for the third time. Photo: Astro Shaw

Over in Malaysia, Hantu Kak Limah is a great example of how the horror-comedy genre can be very lucrative. The film grossed more than RM35 million (US$8.4 million) after only 18 days at the Malaysian box office and it only had a production budget of RM1.8 million (US$435,000). Set in the fictional village of Kampung Pisang, this third film in the Hantu Kak Limah trilogy revolves around the escapades of a wandering ghost. Its predecessors Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah (2010) and Zombi Kampung Pisang (2007) only made RM7.9 million and RM2.37 million respectively – so it’s clear Malaysians are hungry for more.

The low cost for producing a horror movie has made it more accessible for first-time directors to break into the industry. Take Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning movie Get Out, which puts a creepy take on racism in America and was one of the most profitable films of 2017. It had a budget of just US$4.5 million but grossed US$255 million worldwide – a good 56 times the studio’s investment. The fact that such a simple movie with a sharp, cerebral premise can be rewarded with a golden Oscar has made it a phenomenon that others are eager to replicate. Looks like everyone wants to be in the sunken place.

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