Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think box office results are indicative of movie quality. Otherwise the last few “Transformer” films would have been damn near masterpieces in cinema. However, something happened at the box office this weekend that I think is worth talking about.
As you all know “Blair Witch” hit theaters this weekend and received some mixed reviews (including mine which you can read here), but I was honestly shocked that the film underperformed at the box office. I know the cynical among you might scoff and say “Of course it did, it’s a remake/found footage film/whatever else you hate.” But I actually do think it’s a bit of a surprise.
For one thing, the level at which this underperformed is something that probably no one would have guessed. It actually pulled in less money this weekend than the black sheep of the Blair Witch family: “Book of Shadows.” According to Box Office Mojo “Book of Shadows” managed to pull in $13, 223, 887 during it’s opening weekend. This weekend “Blair Witch” is set to bring in approximately $9, 650, 000. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s still a significant margin when you consider that there was a lot of general buzz and excitement surrounding this one and more of a tepid atmosphere for “Book of Shadows.”
What’s also surprising about this weekend’s performance is that horror has been riding on some pretty high-profile successes lately. Recently we saw “Don’t Breathe” open up to a $26 million weekend and before that we had “Lights Out” hit $21 million and of course the big daddy of the year so far has been “The Conjuring 2” which pulled in an impressive $40 million. But even smaller profile films like “The Shallows” enjoyed success this year with a $16 million opening weekend followed by a $10 million holiday weekend.
And, keep in mind, “Don’t Breathe” opened up just last month. So what changed between now and then to cause “Blair Witch” to suffer a sudden dip? Some might say that remake fatigue is setting in. Now, I know that “Blair Witch” isn’t a remake. But I don’t know what the general audience perception is and it would be easy to see how your average moviegoer would see “Blair Witch” and think “Oh. There’s no number attached to it or a subtitle. Maybe it’s a remake?” But remakes haven’t actually been doing to bad in the horror camp. “Ghostbusters” had a decent opening weekend and 2015’s “Poltergeist” didn’t fare so bad either. Granted, they weren’t huge successes, but they were borderline successful.
No, I think the real problem here is that found footage films have started to lose their luster with the general audience. They’ve generally been maligned by horror fans, but over the last decade they’ve proven to be extremely popular with the general audience. There was a time you could release a million dollar found footage movie and it expect it to make back $60 million easily. However, in the last few years the profit margin for those kind of films has been on a decline.
In 2014 we saw films like “As Above So Below” only turn a $8 million profit on their opening weekend. Even the big daddy of the genre, “Paranormal Activity”, struggled in that year with a $16 million weekend. Fast forward to 2015 and things were even more dire. The last “Paranormal Activity” film pulled in a measly $8 million. “Unfriended” managed to be slightly more successful, but that might have been due to the fact it had a lot more novelty attached to it with it’s use of social media platforms.
Point is, the era of the found footage film appears to be dead. If a movie like the “Blair Witch” with all its name recognition and positive pre-release buzz opens at number two, then I can’t imagine there’s much hope for a new found footage IP to crack the market.
And, to be fair, it was most likely not just one thing that lead to “Blair Witch” having a weak weekend. With audiences flocking to so many horror films recently, there may have just been a general fatigue towards the genre. Maybe the marketing confused and dissuaded people who weren’t interested in seeing a remake. Maybe Adam Wingard hit an old gypsy woman with his car and he’s under some kind of curse. It’s hard to successfully predict box office performances. Sometimes a bad weather system rolls in and screws the whole thing up. Whatever the case may be, I could think of nothing more poetic than if the underperformance of “Blair Witch” marks the end of big studio found footage films for the time being.