EXCLUSIVE: Two days before its Ouija: Origin Of Evil opens to an estimated $15 million and hogs up all the Halloween horror business, microbudget maestro Blumhouse has announced that the company has surpassed the $2 billion threshold at the global box office. Catapulting the label past that point was its Universal/Platinum Dunes release The Purge: Election Year, which recently became the highest-grossing chapter in that R-rated horror series with $118.9M.
Blumhouse is hitting the milestone at a time when horror films have had quite a heyday at the multiplex. In addition to Election Year, Screen Gems saw their highest-grossing spooky flick of all time with Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe at $88.2M, while Warner Bros/New Line has profited from Conjuring 2 and Lights Out.
But just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s an easy win at the box office. We’ve also seen some thrifty priced horror titles come apart, i.e., Lionsgate’s failed reboot Blair Witch ($20.6M) and 20th Century Fox’s Morgan ($3.9M). But while Blumhouse keeps its production and digital marketing costs low, the label makes a point of adhering to a brand quality with its fans, and much of that comes from maintaining a filmmaker and actor rep company of sorts.
For example, James DeMonaco wrote and directed all three Purge installments, Leigh Whannell wrote and starred in all four Insidious movies, James Wan wrote and directed the first two in that series, while M. Night Shyamalan followed up his Blumhouse collaboration The Visit ($98.45M global B.O.) with a second low-budget title entitled Split, which recently was embraced by audiences at Fantastic Fest and hits theaters on January 20 via Uni. Among actors, the likes of Lin Shaye (six movies), Frank Grillo (three) and Ethan Hawke (four) have returned to work with Blumhouse, the latter starring in the upcoming Western opposite John Travolta, In A Valley Of Violence, which debuts this weekend via Focus World.
It’s also not about being a slasher factory, rather maintaining an integrity and quality with their films: Election Year satirically tapped into this year’s presidential race, whereas the latest Ouija gets smart by becoming a 1960s period piece.
Blumhouse has even shown big stars the upside to exchanging bucks for creativity. Last year, Universal released Blumhouse’s Jennifer Lopez thriller The Boy Next Door, which landed the actress her fifth-highest live-action opening of her career at $14.9M and even outgrossed the Johnny Depp comedy Mortdecai on the charts ($4.2M FSS). Lopez’s producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas spoke highly about the Blumhouse process. “We loved the idea of investing in ourselves and taking no money upfront. Our attitude was, ‘Let’s put on a show.’ We all literally shared Jennifer’s trailer. We rehearsed at her house and she pulled costumes out of her closet. All the money was up on the screen and the idea of becoming a participant was the idea we embraced. We shot the film in 23 days.”
Top Blumhouse Franchises At The B.O.
Paranormal Activity is easily Blumhouse’s highest-grossing franchise with close to $890M worldwide, and among horror series ranks above Lionsgate’s Saw ($874M), Warner Bros’ The Exorcist ($589.3M) and just under New Line’s The Conjuring titles (including Annabelle) which totals $895M. But while Paranormal blossomed at Paramount, in recent years Blumhouse has been fueled by its 10-year first-look deal at Universal Pictures where such franchises as Purge, Ouija and Insidious (under sister arms Focus Features/Gramercy) have flourished. In just three years, the Uni/Blumhouse partnership has grossed close to $800M off of combined budgets of $50M. In addition to Split, Uni is also releasing Blumhouse’s Get Out on February 24; the pic marks the feature directorial debut of Jordan Peele. Next year at this time, they’ll have Insidious: Chapter 4.
Blumhouse Top Domestic Openers
In the course of Blumhouse’s history, they’ve opened five microbudget titles at the domestic B.O. with ticket sales north of $30M, and nine north of $20M. In total, 10 Blumhouse movies have cleared the century mark at the global B.O. (see chart below).
While the label’s forte has been horror, they’ve expanded into other genres, reaping critical highs such as Damien Chazelle’s three-time Oscar winning drama Whiplash and forgettable lows such as the big-screen version of ’80s toy/cartoon series Jem And The Holograms which fell off screens a year ago with a lousy $1.3M opening — one of the lowest ever for a wide release — and a $2.1M final domestic take. Only those who remembered Jem dared to show up, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.
Last year, Blumhouse launched BH Tilt with a focus on titles geared to a narrower genre base and possessing single-digit digital marketing spends (vs. the average studio genre P&A of $25M-$30M). One of the company’s latest feathers was the Kevin Bacon-Matt Walsh vehicle The Darkness, which made $10.5M domestic. Next up by BH Tilt is Brad Peyton’s Incarnate starring Aaron Eckhart on December 2.
Blumhouse also realized that with certain genre titles, there sometimes needs to be flexibility with the theatrical window. As such, they participated in Paramount’s experiment last fall with shortening the segue between the multiplex and home entertainment with Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. The movie directed by Gregory Plotkin, a co-producer on previous Paranormal Activity pics, was richer overseas with $59M where it had a full theatrical release to its stateside take of $18.3M (only a handful of exhibitors went along with Paramount’s plan). Shorter-length fare from Blumhouse also has a life on CryptTV, a partnership between the label and Eli Roth and Jack Davis. The portal generates more than 20M views a month.
Other departments in the Blumhouse empire include a TV division, which holds two Emmy wins for HBO docu series The Jinx and Ryan Murphy-helmed movie The Normal Heart. One upcoming HBO show is Marti Noxon’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects which stars Amy Adams. Blumhouse acquired Sharp Objects before Flynn’s Gone Girl was turned into a big theatrical hit. On the publishing side, Blumhouse has an imprint with Doubleday which soft-launched last year with the publication of The Blumhouse Book Of Nightmares, an original horror anthology. Future titles include The Apartment by S.L. Grey, Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero, and The Horror Writers Association Anthology. A live event unit produced a haunted house in Argentina to promote a local beer.
Below are Blumhouse’s top 10 titles at the global B.O.:
Blumhouse’s Top 10 Pics Worldwide
Follow Anthony D’Alessandro on Twitter (@Awardstony).