If you have spent any amount of time traipsing through the MoviesMatrix, you know we enjoy a spirited discussion about horror. From the best themes in the genre to the most notorious baddies, we have ample opinions about what makes a genius horror film.
The one question that rarely comes in thoughtful terror debate is the longevity of the box office. Most horror buffs love a striking opening weekend, but after those three to four days, the interest in profitability wanes because everyone knows most of the patron’s interest do as well. Even scary movies recently plummeted after a couple of weeks (e.g., It: Chapter Two, Midsommar)
Most franchises throughout history, cinephiles can guess because they have stood the test of time (i.e., Scream, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw). Yet, consider the sole film throughout its theatrical run up until people are no longer purchasing the download, DVD, VHS, or hell, even a Betamax (look it up, kids).
Use your imagination. Consider the magical aspects that make cash registers ring and movie goers shrill…and go back for more. This is a list that may surprise you or just scare the hell out of you, whichever comes first.
So, don’t cheat and ask yourself what horror film made the most? (And why 11? You’ll see.)
11. The Conjuring 2 | $320.3M ($40M)
Before we go on, the first number (from left to right) listed is its overall profit based on a global theatrical run. The second number listed is the film’s profit throughout said run.
For example, The Conjuring 2 made more than 800% in profit. Think about that.
This is the signature film of a full multiverse based on the same name. The Warrens carried this film, The Conjuring isn’t as scary as a blood bath or some slasher cutting up a bunch of camp girls, but if an entire franchise is worth naming a series of horror flicks, this sequel must make this list. By the way, this was when everyone took James Wan seriously — fans, critics, and production houses.
10. Annabelle: Creation | $306.5M ($15M)
Speaking of the ‘Conjuring Universe,’ Annabelle is that plastic and fantastic doll who gets a little persnickety from time-to-time. This sequel delves into how she became the satanic, ceramic doll from hell she is. (So cute.) To add to the massive haul at the box office — and that 2000% take over budget — critics actually liked this horror movie. It’s a triple crown winner — profit, profitable, and not panned. Yahtzee!
9. Se7en | $327.3M ($33M)
This was an atypical horror movie — big stars, brilliant performances, believable plot. However, being the noir spectacle this marvelous film became, it carried all the other hallmarks of a “horror” movie — much gore, jump scares, the feeling of dread.
While this movie didn’t redefine or resurrect the horror genre like what James Wan and Ari Aster would get ready to do, this created a fresh approach to what a Rater-R movie with intense fear can do to fans and the box office. (A 990% profit didn’t hurt either.)
8. The Conjuring | $319M ($20M)
Are you seeing a trend yet? James Wan is pretty good at these things and today’s fandom may have a sweet tooth for this all sardonic gore and terror. Sick freaks. We met the Warrens, supposed “real life” soothsayers to the damned.
For some reason, a “demonic mystery” inspired people to go to the theaters for solving the tale and getting the absolute @#$% scared out of them in the process. And for a 1595% profit, who cares how they feel? Horror was back and beneficial to a retirement plan too.
7. A Quiet Place | $338M ($17M)
Again, a “horror” movie that brings the air quotes but ends up redefining what to expect in the genre. Within seconds, the thought of a movie with very little lines of script engrossed the nation — 25 lines. That’s it! Everyone who fancied a jump scare, an audible fit, and the occasional monster, lined up to see this movie bring it.
Featuring America’s darling couple of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, the movie showed amazing chemistry, great direction (also, Krasinski), and some of the best cinematography you will see in a long time (nominated for an Oscar too). Incidentally, next time you watch the film, look at the shelves of all those family pictures. Cute, right? Those are real family pictures, like their kids. Trivia. You’re welcome.
6. Hannibal | $351.7M ($87M)
The man is considered “the scariest horror character ever.” The franchise is beloved among horror buffs and movie enthusiasts alike. It created dread, showcased gore, and freaked folk out beginning with The Silence of the Lambs (not so much with Manhunter).
With a 433% profit margin, it wasn’t has profitable as Lambs (1436% profit margin) but it made almost twice the movie. Arguably, this was all because of the Oscar-winning coattails Jonathon Demme’s masterpiece created. What this film didn’t make up for in plot, it certainly amped up the gore and horror quotient making this a Top 20 in the genre and Top 10 of highest grossing in the field.
(And that brain-eating scene? Dayum!)
5. The Nun | $363.5M ($22M)
By now, it’s almost redundant. Times have changed too. In the ’80s, slasher movies dominated the cinema. In the ’90s, terror and jump scares came back, but it wasn’t until the “teens” that the horror genre enjoyed the renaissance that creates the next “highest-grossing horror movie ever.”
People have more residual income, more interest in what’s all the hubbub, and more lust for the AHHHHHHH! And, of course, few have done it better than macabre storyteller James Wan. This one, for instance, wasn’t that great but it was still profitable of 1650% above budget. Saw what you will, but there is a formula to making horror these days — no formula at all, just tell a good story. The audience will reward you for it.
4. IT: Chapter Two | $417.2M ($79M)
The three-hour “monsterpiece” was just about everything it was cracked up to be…and you can pretty much see what’s ahead on this list with this ranking. And it deserves it. The defeated Losers Club are back after 27 years to flip the script and wreak havoc on Pennywise.
It was horrific. It was full of gore (swimming in blood, c’mon). It was everything it was supposed to be and it captured the imagination of cinephiles everywhere. And it still brought in a 527% profit margin so that was fun at the movies too.
3. The Exorcist | $441.2M ($11M)
The 1973 classic is still one of the best ever. It redefined the genre at the time. It established itself as one of the scariest movies in history. People left the theater because they couldn’t take it anymore. William Friedkin took William Peter Blatty’s horrifying book and made it into a constipating chill of death (and people stopped eating split pea soup for decades).
Creepy things happened in real life related to this movie too. Did you know nine people connected to the movie died during production?! Linda Blair actually had a mental breakdown because of how close to the abyss this film became. So many stories. So much profit at 4000% above budget. So many ways this movie is easily one of the scariest horror movies in history. After all these years and all those competitors in the space, it still (almost) reigns supreme.
2. Jaws | $470.7M ($7M)
(This is why there were 11 here.)
Before you wax sanctimonious about what is and is not “horror,” work with me here (because it is on many AFI-certified lists too). The year was 1975. Deviltry wasn’t completely en vogue yet. Slashers hadn’t yet broken through the glass ceiling. And monster horror was a thing of the past. What better to “horrify” audiences than pick something unsuspecting, unknown, and untapped in potential than a great white shark?
And if you think this wasn’t horror, let’s examine this: The movie greatly affected beach tourism for more than a decade! “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was for the cash haul it brought in at a 6714% profit margin. That’s the only non-scary thing about this Spielberg classic. It was horror. It was a success. That’s life.
1. IT | $700.1M ($35M)
The master of horror does it again — at the box office. The Andy Muschetti-helmed reboot not only fans gleeful with terror with a $327.4 M global opening weekend, but the man himself who said he “wasn’t prepared for how good IT was.”
Stephen King is a notoriously harsh critic of his own work, but to get that kind of praise about Pennywise was resume fodder for life (or death, depending on how you look at it). This movie surprised everyone from the fans to the production company. The TV series starring the great Tim Curry was shockingly scary at the time, but this film turned the volume knob to 11. What a terrific ride.
Eventually, the hubbub faded away but for a certified horror movie to get almost 75% to the magical $1B threshold (a 2,000% profit margin)?! It’s clear horror is here to stay.