Navigation section

Horror at the Box Office (2023)


By registering with us, you'll be able to discuss, share and private message with other members of our community.

SignUp Now!
Staff member
Feb 3, 2023
January is the first month of the year, and is oftentimes looked at as the dumping grounds for lackluster, low-quality cinema. Although I believe the stigma carries some merit, for certain, I believe the month has also been subject to more than a few exceptions to the rule. At the box office, January oftentimes is more about holdovers from December than it is the actual new releases kicking of the new year.

For example, Spider-Man: No Way Home dominated the January box office in 2022, and Avatar: The Way of Water dominated in 2023.
  • M3GAN stood out from the crowd – grossing 182 million worldwide and becoming one of the highest grossing horror films this year. The film was benefited by solid reviews and a strong marketing campaign. A sequel is in development and scheduled for release in 2025, where they will reportedly be sticking to the January release date.
  • Director Deon Taylor who is known for his parody series Meet the Blacks tried his hand at a more conventional horror film with Fear, but failed to make a splash in theaters – making only 2.1 million and receiving a negative critical reception.
  • In streaming, Shudder releases Kids vs Aliens to mixed reviews and Peacock released the film Sick (from writer Kevin Williamson of Scream fame) to a positive critical reception.

In February, moviegoers were treated with a new film from M. Night Shyamalan and a comedy horror film from director Elizabeth Banks.
  • M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Knock at the Cabin received a mixed reception from critics and audiences alike, which is not the least bit uncommon for the polarizing filmmaker. The filmmaker definitely has more mixed reviews for his films than he does outright positive or outright negative reviews. Thankfully for him, things usually work out in his favor at the worldwide box office. Unfortunately, Knock at the Cabin has to be seen as at least a slight disappointment. Although the film was modestly successful, accruing 54 million worldwide off a 20 million production budget, it is a far cry from his more highs of Split and Glass, and is even considerably lower than his last film Old (which made 90 million worldwide). The modest returns are unlikely to deter the director who is expected to release a new film called Trap in August 2024 (his daughter is also expected to make her directorial debut next year)!
  • Elizabeth Banks has had mixed results at the box office so far as a director. Her directorial debut Pitch Perfect 2 made a killing at the box office, but her sophomore effort Charlie’s Angels was a box office misfire. If you were to think of Cocaine Bear as the rubber match between her and the theaters, I would call it a draw. The film made nearly 90 million worldwide, but had a considerable 35 million dollar price tag attached to it. I would call that a modest success, neither a smash hit or an outright dud. Maybe the film will have a cult status on the home market that helps weigh things down in its favor.
  • The horror-thriller film Consecration and The Outwaters both also received limited releases this month, with the former making 2.3 million worldwide.

March saw one of the heavy-hitters of the horror genre receive its latest sequel, a sequel that arrives barely a year after its last installment.
  • Children of the Corn was released to little box office fare and an extremely negative critical reception. On Rotten Tomatoes, Children of the Corn has fourfilms with a 0% score, and I think that tells you about everything you need to know about the Stephen King based film franchise.
  • Scream VII did incredibly well at the box office. This was a gamble by Spyglass Media Group and Paramount. A lot of times, these quick turnarounds lead to diminished returns or diminished quality. This could have easily been the story of Scream fizzling out, and when you look at the more recent Halloween Trilogy, which saw both incredibly diminished returns at the box office and a perceived loss in quality, it seemed destined to fail. Instead, Scream VII managed to (more or less) match the critical reception of the previous Scream film and made 30 million more than the last film (and just under what the first and second Scream film made). The consistency and endurance of this franchise is truly remarkable. Unfortunately, the future of the Scream franchise is not promising. As of this writing, both main actors are not returning (with one stepping down and one being fired), and now, it has been revealed the director who was set to replace Radio Silence has stepped down as well. I am not certain how Scream comes back from this, but it will certainly require a lot of course correction.

April was arguably the most interesting month of the year so far for horror films with the release of a new Evil Dead film, the first in ten years, as well as a new Dracula inspired horror film and the newest offering from horror maestro Ari Aster.
  • Renfield was a disaster. The film received a mixed reception from moviegoers and made peanuts at the box office. Personally, I was very excited about Renfield when it was first announced. The makeup for Nicholas Cage was fantastic, and Nicholas Hoult was playing to his wheelhouse as the awkward, soft-spoken Renfield. Unfortunately, I am among the people that ended up meeting the finished product with shrugged shoulders. It’s a real shame because it is very unique and different from a lot of what comes out, and so, I wanted it to do well if only because I wanted them to have a second crack at something similar. Instead, as prefaced, Renfield was a disaster. The film had a 65 million dollar production budget and failed to gross even half of that. Let’s not even begin to factor in how much was spent on marketing it. This film didn’t break even and, unfortunately, has no chance of really ever breaking even, cult status or not.
  • Ari Aster’s film Beau is Afraid was also a disaster. The director broke out with his film Hereditary and carried that momentum to another successful film Midsommar. Although Midsommar only made half of what Hereditary made, it had the benefit of a small budget and good reviews to help bolster it on the home market. Beau is Afraid received mixed reviews and had a budget of 35 million (more than Hereditary and Midsommar combined). The film made 11.5 million total, which means it is in a similar boat as Renfield, where it didn’t break even in theaters and likely never will recoup the damages on the home market. Again, it’s a shame because it is another example of something strange and different failing to be rewarded, making it that much more likely a filmmaker won’t get that chance again.
  • The Pope’s Exorcist received mixed reviews, with most praising Russel Crowe’s performance but denouncing the film itself as standard or generic. The domestic return on The Pope’s Exorcist was modest at best, but, surprisingly, the film was an example of the foreign market willing a film into sleeper hit status. The film made 96 million off its 20 million dollar production budget. As of April 2023, a sequel is reportedly in development, with Crowe set to reprise his role (but that was announced at the time of the film’s release, not after the company had a chance to see domestic return).
  • Evil Dead Rise was the defining film of April in horror. The film received a positive critical reception and was able to make nearly 150 million worldwide off a neat-and-tidy 15-20 million dollar production budget. This is a success story, and it’s made sweeter when you consider that it was originally meant to forego a theatrical run in favor of a streaming release on Max. The film marks a nearly 50% increase from the last Evil Dead film and made more than Scream (2022), which means I think the prospects are good for the future of the franchise.
Staff member
Feb 3, 2023
After what was, all in all, a very present role in theaters in the first quarter, May and June were rather bereft of horror in theaters, with only two films to talk about…
  • The Boogeyman is an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story of the same. The film was released to mixed reviews and made 82 million off a production budget of about 35 million. In a vacuum, 82 million for a new horror story wouldn’t be anything to turn up your nose at. Unfortunately, it is that 35 million production budget (and whatever the marketing budget was) that does the film in. Like Cocaine Bear, it is a film that is neither a smash hit nor an outright dud.
  • The Blackening was released to very positive reviews and made 15 million from a production budget of 5 million. Although it wasn’t a box office juggernaut by any stretch, the fact it actually positively received (unlike what you would expect from a film called The Blackening), means I think it could make a lot of its money in the back end on the home market.

July was a month of big wins and big losses, offering sequels and reboots that show what has life and what doesn’t.
  • Haunted Mansion was released to negative reviews and was a box office flop for Disney. Like the original film based on the theme park attraction, the new Haunted Mansion failed to entice general audiences on a critical level. Unlike the original film, the film also failed to make as much at the worldwide box office as its production cost. Haunted Mansion made 117 million off a budget of 150 million. Although the original film wasn’t incredibly financially lucrative for the company, I imagine they would kill for that lukewarm return on investment after this misfire. I would imagine the synergy with the Disney attraction will offset some of the damages, but I can’t imagine anyone trying to paint it as anything other than a giant failure.
  • Samuel Bodin’s directorial debut Cobweb managed to rake up 8 million worldwide in a limited release, receiving mixed reviews from critics and general audiences. Although not enough is known to call it a success or failure, making 8 million in limited release has to be, at the very least, a pleasant surprise.
  • The film that carried July and over delivered beyond even the best of expectations was Insidious: The Red Door. Although, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise in retrospect. Although Insidious has often been seen as a B-tier franchise, beneath James Wan’s more successful Conjuring films, it nearly never misses and has performed consistently despite being a series that has never exactly been a critical darling. The last film Insidious: The Last Key was a massive success as well, but The Red Door takes the cake – grossing 189 million from a 16 million dollar production budget. Not only is this the highest-grossing film in the Insidious franchise so far, but if you have been keeping track, it is the highest grossing horror film worldwide up to this point (a record it won’t keep). The film is billed as the last film in the main series, but a spin-off film called Thread: An Insidious Tale is currently in-production, set to arrive shortly.
  • If I had a nickel for every expensive film to be indirectly based off Dracula, I would have two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it is weird that it happened twice. The Last Voyage of the Demeter saw the director of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and The Autopsy of Jane Doe attempt a serious, white-knuckled Dracula film. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t award him for his efforts. The film received mixed reviews from critics and failed to recoup its budget at the box office. The film cost a whopping 45 million, but only managed to ring up 22 million worldwide. There is no other way to phrase it, The Last Voyage of the Demeter was a failure that cost Universal a lot of money. Like Renfield, I feel it is actually disappointed to see this film go unseen, if only because it is a more unique approach than Universal commissioning a Dracula Untold or The Mummy style blockbuster.

Similar to January, September is sometimes labeled as a dead-zone at the box office. Fortunately, horror was more than willing to help keep the lights on, delivering two successful sequels in popular, long-running franchises.
  • The Nun II delivered greatly, grossing 268 million worldwide from a budget of just shy of 40 million. Although the film is nearly 100 million less than the original, many critics deemed it higher quality than the original film. The Conjuring Universe has flourished for a decade now and still hasn’t ever really missed the mark a single time at the box office (the closest would be the spin-off Curse of Llorona film, which has retroactively been disowned from the franchise – but, even it was still a box office success). Although The Conjuring 3 grossed less than Conjuring 2, and now, The Nun 2 has grossed less than the previous film, the series remains a box-office juggernaut and one of the most successful horror franchises of all-time. For its return on investment, it would not be unfair to say The Conjuring Universe has been the first and only wholly successful post-Marvel cinematic universe. Had it not been for an October release, The Nun II would have claimed the title as the highest grossing horror film of the year.
  • Who would have thought Saw X would be the first positively received film in the Saw franchise? There is a saying about broken clocks, and the Saw franchise nearly went through a full rotation before it won critics over. Thankfully, for Twisted Pictures, their effort has not gone unrewarded. Although Spiral: From the Book of Saw was meant to breathe new life in the franchise, casting known actors Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock, it became the least successful film of the franchise at the box office. In its defense, it was something of a sacrificial lamb that suffered at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Saw X rights the ship, grossing 111 million worldwide from a budget of 13 million, nearly three times the gross of Spiral and nearly 10 million more than the 2017 film Jigsaw. A sequel has already been announced and is scheduled for September 2024.
  • It Lives Inside released to 6.8 million worldwide and mixed reviews in Bishal Dutta directorial debut.
  • The science fiction horror film No One Will Save You also released on Hulu to positive reviews.

October is considered the month of horror, and true to its name, theaters received a legacy sequel to one of the biggest horror movies ever made, as well as a popular horror franchises’ first foray to the big screen.
  • The Exorcist: Believer is something of a disaster for Universal Pictures. To fully appreciate how much of a misfire this was, a person would need to peel back the layers a little bit. In a vacuum, The Exorcist: Believer wasn’t a box office flop by any stretch. The film made 136 million from a production budget of only 30 million. Chances are, the film has already recouped its production budget and has begun covering the damages of its marketing budget. It isn’t a flop, and, in fact, by itself, it is modestly successful. Unfortunately, Universal paid 400 million for the distribution rights of The Exorcist franchise. It is that fact, and its franchise potential (or lack thereof) that make this appear like a disaster for Universal. Believer was ripped apart by critics, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the Trilogy. Although Universal brought in David Gordon Green to direct Believer (and possibly the rest of the Trilogy), hoping he would be able to spark the same interest he did with his Halloween trilogy, that didn’t happen. Instead, Exorcist: Believer performed more like his films in the Halloween Trilogy after the reboot film. Assuming that the Exorcist sequel performs similar to Halloween Kills, it would be fair to expect significant declines for later films in the franchise (neither other film in the Halloween trilogy managed to make even half of what the 2018 film did). Yikes.
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s was, honestly and truly, the success story of horror in 2023. Although the film received a mixed-to-negative response from critics, general audiences found a lot to enjoy about the film. Personally, I was among the ones who didn’t particularly enjoy the film, however, my wife who is a longtime fan of the franchise and the lore surrounding it, absolutely loved it. The Five Nights at Freddy’s film has now made 294 million dollars, becoming not only the highest grossing horror film of the year, but the highest grossing film from horror production Blumhouse. Considering that Blumhouse’s resume includes films like Get Out, 2018’s Halloween, and the Paranormal Activity franchise, that is no easy feat.
  • Pet Sematery: Bloodlines premiered on Paramount+ to negative reviews, whereas both V/H/S/85 and Hell House LLC: Origins both premiered on Shudder to a mixed-to-positive reception.

The rest of the year was admittedly rather quiet, although it wasn’t without at least one success story.
  • Eli Roth’s slasher film Thanksgiving received positive reviews from critics (the highest Eli Roth has ever received) and managed to gross 45 million from a budget of 15 million. Although the film isn’t necessarily a breakthrough blockbuster, it was a successful film that has the potential to achieve cult status on the home market. A sequel is already in development.