If you look at the highest grossing movies of all time, most are generally beloved, examples include Titanic, Avatar, the Star Wars franchise, Marvel movies, etc. The same can be said in the horror genre for the most part. The majority of the highest grossing genre pictures enjoyed plenty of critical success to go with the financial windfall they secured. The link between box office success and critical success has usually gone hand in hand for movies across all genres. Good word of mouth, well financed marketing ploys, and likable talent are critical factors to financial success.
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It goes without saying that a good product is the key factor to critical success. Like I said, most financial successes were also critical successes. But the below seven movies were the exception to this rule. These films were huge financial successes, but major critical disappointments. Why did they succeed financially? Were they overlooked and unfairly criticized at the time of release? Was the financial success just a byproduct of coattail riding on well-known franchise IP? All of the movies below grossed over $100+ million at the box office, and are listed in order of profits earned, low to high…
The Devil Inside
$101,759,490 (Worldwide Box Office)
Out of every single movie in the history of movies – The Devil Inside is far and away the most shocking to earn over $100 million dollars at the box office, and it’s really not close. The key to financial success of The Devil Inside was not screening the movie for critics. This was absolutely the main factor in its success. By doing this, the general public went to this movie with nothing except a decent trailer.
The Devil Inside was absolutely hated by critics and audiences, racking up a score of 6% ‘fresh; on Rotten Tomatoes and an ‘F’ at CinemaScore. This was a critical bomb, through and through. Even being called by some “the worst horror movie ever made”. By the second weekend after its release, The Devil Inside dropped out of the box office top ten, and disappeared into obscurity, but not before it swooped in and basically stole money from the movie going public. If only The Devil Inside screened for critics, those film journalists could have saved a lot of people money and an hour-and-a-half of their lives.
There is not much else to say about this movie. William Brent Bell, the director, has obviously done better work, including Stay Alive, The Boy, and Orphan: First Kill, but nothing as financially successful as The Devil Inside.
$103,300,632 (Worldwide Box Office)
The movie Ouija, about the killer board game , made over $100 million dollars. To this day I truly just do not understand. It’s an okay horror movie. There is nothing particularly bad about it, but there is also nothing good about it. Ouija is the literal manifestation of mediocre horror filmmaking. With a terrible Rotten Tomatoes score of 6% to go with a 24% Audience Score, Ouija is very fortunate to have enjoyed the financial success it did…
Ouija is a good example of a film that seemed like it was too weird of a premise to succeed critically. But the weirdest part of all of this is that the sequel to this movie, Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, ended up being a far superior movie to this. For whatever reason though, Ouija: Origin of Evil did not do as well at the box office as its predecessor.
It’s very impressive that the original Ouija made over $100 million dollars at the box office. Board games can serve as name recognition IP and some could argue even more so than movies. For example, there is a better chance that more people are familiar with the Ouija board game than with the Child’s Play or The Purge movies.
Even the critical failure of Ouija did not have an effect on its box office success. Now to wait for the inevitable Candy Land and Monopoly live action movies…
$133,735,284 (Worldwide Box Office)
“I want to play a game”. One of the most famous lines from one of the most famous horror franchises of the 21st century, Saw. Everyone knows who Jigsaw is.
Although the Saw franchise got a little lost in the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre, all of the movies are still entertaining and for the most part, good mystery stories. Created by Leigh Whannell and James Wan, the first Saw movie was a monster hit, jumpstarting both of their careers and making both A-list writers and directors. Made with a budget of around $1 million, Saw earned $103 million worldwide, making it a massive success story for Lionsgate, who owned the rights. Saw became an instant cult classic, destined to be a successful franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m that into gnarly, bloody scenes. As the Saw franchise progressed throughout the 2000s, and even into the 2010s, it got gnarlier and gnarlier, consistently upping the stakes of the torturous ‘games’ played, drifting further and further away from what made the original few movies so great.
Once it became a gore-fest with endless amounts of people having to play the ‘games’, I think audiences started to become fatigued. The box office results speak to this trend as well, with only one outlier. Saw 1, 2 & 3 grossed $103 million, then $147 million, then $164 million. People were happy to keep going back to the theater to see what the Jigsaw killer had up his (or her) sleeve. Saw 4 & 5’s box office results dipped though, grossing $113 million then $68 million, respectively. Seemed like the franchise was dead after the release of Saw 6. But then comes the outlier…
Saw 3D, also known as Saw: The Final Chapter, grossed $136 million worldwide. Saw 3D being in 3D gave the franchise exactly what it needed at the time, something new. Even though the movie was basically the same many of its predecessors, people came out to experience these deadly situations in 3D. If there was any franchise that would work in 3D, it was Saw. The claustrophobic killing traps were meant to be experienced by the audience in a visceral way, and 3D technology provided that experience.
Paranormal Activity 4
$142,817,992 (Worldwide Box Office)
Put this in perspective, a movie that cost $15,000 to make, with unknown actors, and filmed in the filmmaker’s house, about a couple who record themselves with the intention of catching ghosts or anything paranormal on camera, went on to spawn a franchise that has grossed almost $900 million dollars at worldwide box office. More perspective, flipping that $15k (before marketing and studio-funded tweaks) into $890 million is a 5933233% increase. That’s over a 5 million percent increase on the original investment to the final return. Just staggering numbers…
Paranormal Activity 4 is an interesting movie in the context of where it stands in the franchise. And how it was received both critically and amongst audiences. Not to mention financially. Paranormal Activity 4’s immediate predecessor, Paranormal Activity 3, was the highest grossing movie of the entire series, earning $207 million worldwide. Surpassing Paranormal Activity, which made $193 million and Paranormal Activity 2 which made $177 million.
Paranormal Activity 4 is where the wheels came off for the franchise’s financial prospects. With a steep decline of around $60 million worldwide, Paranormal Activity 4 came in with a still impressive, but franchise low, $142 million at the worldwide box office.
The series fourth installment was poorly received by critics and audiences, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 23% and a Metacritic score of 40. To go with a CinemaScore of ‘C’. These are all franchise lows. I find the 4th installment to be an enjoyable movie, but critics just saw it as more of the same. If you ignore the continuation of the witch coven story, and the mythology behind Katie (the main character of the series, whose family is haunted by this coven) then it really is just more of the same.
Overall, I believe Paranormal Activity 4 was a good movie that was a little bit unfairly criticized due to being a victim of circumstance. The third entry was so well done and made so much money that it really made it difficult for the 4th to replicate that success without using the same or similar techniques.
Insidious: The Last Key
$172,811,971 (Worldwide Box Office)
I have long stood by Insidious 1, 2 & 3 as being three of the five scariest movies of all time. And I would even go as far to say they might make up the entire top three scariest movies of all time. That’s a very hot take but go back and watch these movies. They are all genuinely terrifying. They are all well-crafted, well-acted, and brilliantly scored.
The financial success of Insidious: The Last Key was not the least bit surprising. Although it is a bit surprising that it made more than any of its predecessors, with $167 million worldwide box office. Directed by Adam Robitel and written by Leigh Whannell, Insidious: The Last Key was the first movie in the franchise to not be handled solely by Wan and Whannell. Robitel is a great filmmaker, and has plenty of experience in franchise horror, having written Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. As well as directing the Escape Room movies. But Robitel’s finest work is perhaps The Taking of Deborah Logan.
Insidious: The Last Key is an okay movie. Nothing special, but still good. Although it did score franchise low scores across the board both with critics, sitting a 33% Rotten Tomatoes is a franchise low by a good amount. And the B- CinemaScore was a franchise low as well. Even though it was critically underwhelming, Insidious: The Last Key was enormously successful financially.
No matter how you spin it, it’s hard to argue that the Insidious franchise was one of the most successful horror franchises of the 2010’s both critically and financially…
The Final Destination
$187,384,627 (Worldwide Box Office)
The Final Destination franchise is another gem from New Line Cinema. Created by Jeffrey Reddick in 2000, the Final Destination franchise has been consistently one of the most popular and enjoyable horror franchises of the 21st century. Final Destination is one of those series that is beloved by movie going audiences, but generally reviled by the professional critical community. The variance between critical scores and audience scores are larger than most. Each movie in the franchise has under a 50% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. While on the flip side, the CinemaScore averages are in the solid B+ range.
What I find to be most interesting is that The Final Destination, which is the fourth entry in the Final Destination series was easily the most reviled by both audiences and critics, but somehow made the most money at the box office of all of the movies in the series, and by a wide margin as well.
This is likely a case where fans took the film’s critical analysis with a grain of salt and turned up at the box office anyway. Albeit it somewhat disappointing results…
All in all, The Final Destination was a terrible movie that is still enjoyable to watch. It’s a really fun and bankable franchise and I find it mildly surprising that there has not been another entry since 2011. Hopefully there will be more news on the sixth installment soon.
$363,391,647 (Worldwide Box Office)
The Nun is quite honestly the very definition of a movie in which the IP completely carries it to box office success. Everyone that is familiar with the Conjuring universe is familiar with Annabelle and Valak the evil nun. The Nun is the 5th movie in The Conjuring franchise and the origin story (to a degree) of Valak the evil nun. James Wan and Peter Safran (who now famously co-runs the DC comics movies with James Gunn) have been shepherding The Conjuring franchise as producers since the first movie. James Wan, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes – who wrote The Conjuring – did a prolific job of building a story in which there is an infinite pool of potential spin-offs that they can pull from.
The Nun was able to make $363 million dollars at the worldwide box office, which is more than any other movie from the Conjuring universe. Wow!
There were a few things to like about this movie, but the general consensus critically and amongst audience members was negative (25% on Rotten Tomatoes and 35% Audience Score). Unfortunately, it really lacked the scare factor that its predecessors and even successors had. Valak is most likely the scariest monster presence in the franchise, so an origin story with Valak as the star not being genuinely terrifying is disappointing, and an enormous miss for the filmmaking team.
I thought that The Nun lacked truly scary moments like all of the other Conjuring franchise movies have had in bulk, to go with not entirely likable main characters. Without the scares, a good story, or good characters, The Nun had no real chance at being looked upon as a classic. Which is a bummer, because there was a lot of potential here for something horrifying. Obviously, that did not stop people from going to see it though…
Overall, I don’t have the slightest idea why this movie did better at the box office than any other Conjuring universe movie. The next two most successful financially in the franchise were The Conjuring‘s 1 & 2. Earning $320 million and $321 million, respectively. There is a wide gap between the rest of the Conjuring universe movies, with Annabelle: Creation coming the closest to the success of The Conjuring 1 & 2 and The Nun, with $306 million. Not too far off, but substantial, nonetheless.
There are so many stone-cold classics that bombed at the box office. The whys and why nots are impossible to conclude – and it is a mystery to everyone including the movie studios. It’s not an exact science – but it is fun to debate how some of these movies hit it big at the box office, no matter how good or bad, and some don’t…