It’s been a funny old decade for the horror industry. On one hand we’ve seen an increased appreciation of global cinema (particularly Asia and Northern Europe) and some truly stellar, genre-busting titles which have convinced us that horror has risen from the near-dead.
Zombies and vampires are now firmly back in vogue thanks to some inspirations which need not be named, and even the TV horror industry has gained widespread appeal.
On the other hand, the last ten years have also been dominated by sheer number of awful films, the main perpetrators being half-hearted reboots, disastrous video game tie-ins and franchises which should have received a hatchet to the skull long before they got to sequel number three, or four… or five (we’re looking at you, Resident Evil).
As such, the horror industry is either in resurgence or still under a coma depending on which way you butter it, and either opinion is easy to justify.
But what do the figures suggest?
Today, we’ve done something a little different.
Arguably, two metrics can be used to measure this – takings at the box office, and critical reception. We’ve fed every single horror movie released between 2002 and 2012 (as listed by The Numbers) through Rotten Tomatoes and come up with the average reception to the year’s horror output, plotted against the gross takings of that year. See the bottom of the article for some notes on the methodology behind the research.
And yes, it took us forever. Click the image to see the graph in full detail:
In general terms, what many of us suspect is true; both commercially and critically, things have been in decline for the last four or five years.
But what’s surprising is that the early 2000s – a time where many commentators point to as the beginning of the downward spiral – was actually rather prosperous, with the horror industry’s takings rapidly booming over the first half of that decade and reaching a staggering $689,000,000 in takings in 2007.
To put that into perspective, 2007 saw horror holding 7.16 percent of the market share – that’s the highest it’s been in the last twenty years.
But even more surprising is 2008. It was the second worst year of the decade when it comes to box office takings, but it was the best year in terms of critical response.
This is mainly down to the lack of big Hollywood titles coming out that year, save for I Am Legend, Saw V and Prom Night. What we’re seeing is a number of excellent foreign and indie titles such as the Swedish version of Let the Right Ones In and Rogue gaining great critical response and dragging the averages up despite not taking much money.
In fact, if we ignore the Hollywood turkeys of Prom Night, One Missed Call and Shutter – all of which scored less than 10 percent on RT but were all within the top seven earners – the critical thumbs-up average for the year leaps to 60%.
In essence, it seems that the link between what’s “good” in horror and what’s likely to sell tickets is virtually non-existent (only four of the top horror movies of the decade were certified “fresh”). Either way, both factors seem to have been declining over the last five years.
Still, it’s not as severe an outcome as most people would expect and there’s plenty of potential for change.
An increased celebration of foreign horror, and perhaps more funding for indie projects such as the superb works coming from students of NYFA film schools, could buck the trend of mediocrity in the genre.
Horror isn’t dead. It’s just flailing around wildly.
***A note on the figures: To keep it objective, we left in movies which are arguably not horror (such as Prometheus) but excluded any movie which did not have a consensus rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It should be noted that a film’s critical rating and box office takings may be counted in two years running if their screening runs over into a new year; rather than get bogged down in math, we did not adjust for this.
Additionally, we know that The Numbers is not infallible (for instance some of the release years can be variable depending on what region they use) but it’s one of the best single sources and that provided us with a stronger element of consistency.
by New York Film Academy Faculty
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