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Why These Horror Movies Bombed At The Box Office

In 2023 alone, horror movies brought in $901.7 million domestically, roughly 10% of that year's entire domestic box office. Such a hefty haul is more than double what horror movies accumulated in 2011, and perfectly crystallizes what big business horror films have become for Hollywood in the modern cinematic landscape. While other once-reliable genres fail to bring audiences into theaters, a compelling, frightening movie can still grab many moviegoers. Modern pop culture sensations like "Get Out" or "Five Night's at Freddy's" have proven just how much moolah there is in crafting chilling storytelling. 

However, that doesn't mean every horror movie becomes the next "Nope" or "A Quiet Place" at the box office. On the contrary, many factors can lead a horror film to crash and burn financially. Over the years, countless spine-tingling titles have offered cautionary tales for future entries in this genre through their failures. Such shortcomings range heavily from poor release dates to excessive budgets to miscalculated marketing and so much more. One look at that $901.7 million figure from 2023 can make it seem like horror is foolproof at the box office, but these horror flops offer a different take that's as unnerving to studio execs as any campfire ghost story.

Splice

The same month that "Toy Story 3" and "Grown Ups" made hundreds of millions in theaters, audiences could also see Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody unleash an unholy cloning creation on the big screen in "Splice." Meant to be grimy counterprogramming against some super mainstream June 2010 releases, "Splice" had plenty of disturbing sequences that have become widely discussed among the film's cult fan base. Chief among those sequences was a key moment where Brody's character and the monstrous Dren (Delphine Chaneac) have sex, an interaction steeped in incestuous overtones.

Those very same set pieces that made "Splice" catnip for trash cinema addicts also ensured that this movie would never become a mainstream hit. A film this sexually aggressive, weird, and relentlessly bleak could never excel financially in the 2010 box office landscape. Worldwide, "Splice" only made $28.5 million on a $30 million budget. That theatrical run included a disastrous $17 million domestically despite distributor Warner Bros sending "Splice" out into over 2,400 theaters. Some horror box office flops are unexpected failures. "Splice," on the other hand, was always destined to be a grotesque oddity excluded from general acceptance.

Pandorum

Many times, it's incredibly difficult to explain how and why a movie was a box office bomb. A lot goes into crafting a motion picture, just as much informs why it fails to resonate with the public. However, some box office failures are quite easy to explain. Take the September 2009 sci-fi/horror film "Pandorum." For starters, that title made the movie sound like a cheap knockoff of the primary planet "Avatar" takes place on. Then there was its marketing, namely an incoherent poster depicting... a person peeling off some kind of exo-skin? Perhaps an alien creature? Maybe it was an organic weapon? The murky lighting and shakiness of the poster's central subject make it hard to tell.

The imagery's ambiguity didn't instill unease in viewers nor compel folks to delve deeper into what "Pandorum" was. Instead, it just made the film look incredibly inaccessible. Additionally, "Pandorum" was always destined to fight an uphill battle in theaters. Sci-fi/horror hybrids tend to bomb at the box office. The lackluster marketing didn't give folks any reason to take a chance on this tormented addition to the genre either. "Pandorum" grossed a disastrous $17 million worldwide on a $40 million budget and barely cleared $10 million domestically. Even a slightly more coherent poster couldn't have saved "Pandorum" from such anemic numbers.

The Wolfman

Only four horror movies in history have cracked $400 million worldwide. That fact doesn't reflect horror's limited appeal, but rather how these titles don't need Marvel-sized grosses to turn a profit. Horror movies are usually made cheaply and can be lucrative even at a $40-50 million worldwide gross. That box office reality makes the excessive costs of "The Wolfman" staggering to consider. This 2010 take on the Universal Monsters legend cost an enormous $150 million. To be profitable, "The Wolfman" needed to rake in $300+ million globally. Before 2013, the only horror features to cross that threshold were "Jaws," "The Exorcist," and "Hannibal."

"The Wolfman" needed to shatter all expectations and become a horror movie phenomenon to have a prayer of profitability. But this Benicio del Toro star vehicle amassed only $142.6 million worldwide. That disastrous haul could be chalked up to many factors, including the movie's "R" rating limiting its audience. An R is fine for a horror movie costing as much as a typical "Saw" installment, but films budgeted at $150 million need audiences of all ages to break even. Endless release date changes also promulgated a cursed reputation for this blockbuster before it even hit the silver screen. "The Wolfman" was a cautionary tale for all future horror filmmakers ... keep your budgets modest or get suffocated by the genre's box office restrictions.

Beloved

Many films on this list are trashy horror fare produced to generate a quick buck for producers. "Beloved" is a much different creation. Directed by Jonathan Demme and adapted from Toni Morrison's 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, the 1998 film follows Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a woman traumatized by her experiences as a slave. A poltergeist and an exorcism factor into the plot, but real-world atrocities and psychological turmoil inform the horror more than anything else. Winfrey was praised for her performance, while Demme's handling of the ambiguous, non-linear narrative was also highly acclaimed. 

Unfortunately, the movie's creative audacity, heavy subject matter, and lengthy 172-minute runtime were always going to make it a challenging sell as a mainstream hit. It didn't help that "Beloved" was released in October, when people want escapist-driven horror movies matching the atmosphere of Halloween. "Beloved" just didn't fit into the marketplace's demands, which led to it capsizing financially with only $22.8 million on a $53 million budget.  Opening the same weekend as other genre-themed movies with more mainstream sensibilities, like "Practical Magic" and "Bride of Chucky," did not help matters. While Demme's epic flopped, unlike many other horror titles on this list, "Beloved" has at least garnered a cult following since its release. These ambitious productions tend to find their audience eventually. 

The Invasion

Today, Nicole Kidman is an icon beloved by everyone from the LGBTQ+ community to movie geeks obsessed with her AMC Theatres pre-show ad. However, her roughest patch as a box office draw came in the mid-2000s with miscalculated star vehicles like "The Stepford Wives," "Bewitched," and "Australia." Among those mainstream boondoggles was the 2007 film "The Invasion," a remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" pairing Kidman with Daniel Craig (who'd only recently begun his 007 exploits with "Casino Royale"). Putting Kidman in an eerie and paranoia-drenched thriller should have been a recipe for juicy scares, especially given Kidman's previous success with horror in "The Others."

Unfortunately, "The Invasion" was a financial cataclysm, thanks to its $40.1 million worldwide haul off an $80 million budget. That included a disastrous $15 million domestic haul, rendering "The Invasion" the seventh-lowest-grossing 2007 movie to play in 2,500+ theaters.  The film's grim and gritty execution erased the one advantage remakes supposedly wield: familiarity. Slap a familiar brand name on a poster and audiences come running — that's the mindset behind these titles. With marketing that didn't emphasize the sci-fi trappings of the original "Body Snatchers" story, "The Invasion" couldn't get a boost from previous versions' goodwill either. Instead, its posters and trailers just sold a dimly-lit and generic-looking thriller relying on star power to carry the day. 

Feardotcom

Throughout history, horror cinema has often been especially impactful by offering commentary on the real world. 1974's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," for instance, has been widely interpreted as being an allegory for the ceaseless madness plaguing American society's institutions in the 1970s. Though not intended as such, the February 2017 release date of "Get Out" turned it into a timely take on chilling modern-day racism. However, not all horror movie stabs at relevancy are equal. Just take 2002's "Feardotcom," which tried to merge the then-new world of AOL with classic frightening cinema tropes. The result was a feature only terrifying in the negative reviews it spawned. 

Everything about "Feardotcom," including its title, was meant to make the movie deeply relevant to then-modern moviegoers. However, all the film did was comically reflect how out-of-touch studio executives were with how young people utilized the World Wide Web. Inaccessible to older moviegoers and coming off as the "how do you do, fellow kids?" of horror cinema to younger folks, "Feardotcom" had nowhere to go but down at the box office. Even after opening over Labor Day weekend (an often prosperous timeframe for horror films), "Feardotcom" grossed a paltry $13.2 million worldwide on an excessive $40 million budget. Relevancy can be a boon for horror movies, but trying to be "timely" just sealed this one's financial fate.

Renfield

For much of the 21st century, Universal Pictures has failed to turn its various classic monsters (like Dracula, Frankenstein's creation, the Wolf Man, etc.) into big box office draws. Save for the Brendan Fraser "Mummy" movies, Universal's modern visions of its vintage scary creatures have either been box office disappointments like "Van Helsing" or outright bombs like the 2017 "Mummy" remake. However, the success of 2020's "The Invisible Man" finally shined a light on how to make Universal Monsters work for 21st-century moviegoers. Cheaply-made films were a perfect vessel for these characters — after all, that's how they started their respective big-screen existences.

Bizarrely, Universal's next modern update of one of its classic monsters was not another low-budget effort. Instead, the studio embraced "Renfield," which did feature oodles of R-rated gore, but was primarily an action movie, while also featuring crime thriller and comedy elements as well. "Renfield" was also no "Invisible Man," packing a hefty $86 million price tag. 

Inevitably, "Renfield" turned into another modern Universal Monsters box office bust, despite delivering Nicolas Cage as Dracula. Worldwide, "Renfield" grossed a dismal $26.8 million. Costly action-oriented movies are just not where characters like Dracula thrive. It also didn't help that the promotional campaign leaned heavily on Cage: This talented actor unfortunately hasn't appeared in a live-action movie that's exceeded $22 million domestically since 2012. With those numbers, the box office woes of most modern Universal Monsters movies continued undaunted.

Doom

As noted earlier, sci-fi/horror has often been a tough sell to audiences unless it falls under the "Alien" or "Predator" brand. 2005's "Doom" was always going to have an uphill financial climb thanks to that historical track record. However, "Doom" also had to contend with the dismal financial prospects of video game movies circa 2005. At this point, only one video game movie adaptation — 2001's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" — had exceeded $100 million domestically. Most video game movies became legendary bombs like "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" or "Wing Commander." Even with these challenges, "Doom" could have leaped over these hurdles if it had generated buzz through its spectacular quality. 

However, with dismal reviews preceding its theatrical bow, "Doom" lived up to its title at the box office. Though "Doom" was a popular first-person shooter game, that fan base did not come out in droves for the movie. It only grossed $58.7 million worldwide (including just $28.2 million domestically) on a $70 million budget. The feature capped off a rough few box office years for star Dwayne Johnson, with "Doom" being his lowest-grossing lead role up to that point. All the qualities that made the source material so interesting (including fighting evil demons from Hell) were discarded in this adaptation, rendering the film unengaging for die-hard "Doom" nerds and deeply generic to the general public. Even the tough box office track records of sci-fi/horror and video game movies aren't enough to explain the failure of "Doom."

Event Horizon

For director Paul W.S. Anderson, "Event Horizon" turning into a box office bomb can be traced back to one movie: "Titanic." When James Cameron's blockbuster was postponed from July to December 1997, domestic distributor Paramount Pictures wanted another big moneymaker for its summer 1997 slate. "Event Horizon" was eventually selected as Paramount's replacement movie, causing its post-production process to be extremely rushed. Hurriedly pushing "Event Horizon" into a summertime release date didn't help the film's box office haul. The pervasively grim storyline and visuals explored in "Event Horizon" ensured it wasn't a first choice for moviegoers in August 1997. Instead, people opted for feel-good productions like "The Full Monty." 

Costing $60 million, "Event Horizon" needed way more than its final $26.7 million worldwide haul to break even. Once again, sci-fi/horror just wasn't something audiences gravitated towards. Not even the presence of "Jurassic Park" star Sam Neill or the reliable Laurence Fishburne in the lead roles could help "Event Horizon." While there's no guarantee that meeting a release date under normal circumstances would have prevented its box office misery, it's highly unlikely "Event Horizon" would have done much worse if Anderson and company had been given more time to tinker with the film. 

Supernova

So much effort went into finally bringing "Supernova" to the big screen, including years of editing and even some work overseen by Francis Ford Coppola. It would be nice to say that all that turmoil resulted in a classic box office smash or even an ambitious misfire that later garnered a cult following, but "Supernova" instead vanished into pop culture obscurity after a disastrous theatrical run. "Supernova" made $14.8 million globally, primarily from a $14.2 million domestic haul. On a $60 million budget, "Supernova" was an instant financial failure after its $6.7 million opening weekend. Landing in eighth place, "Supernova" only made $100,000 more in that frame than "Toy Story 2," which was in its eighth weekend of wide release.

Taking a look at the movie's incredibly misleading trailer, it's no wonder audiences were repelled. The clip runs through way too many needle drops in just over two minutes, for one thing, lending a disorientingly hyperactive atmosphere to the trailer. Meanwhile, the horror tone is never made explicitly clear thanks to a cheeky tagline and the characters spouting so many one-liners. Horrific reviews did not help persuade moviegoers to give "Supernova" a chance despite its extremely tone-deaf marketing. Unfortunately for all involved in "Supernova," its endless production woes perfectly echoed its eventual atrocious box office run.

Haunted Mansion

It's not a massive surprise that the 2023 Disney film "Haunted Mansion" didn't set the box office afire. After all, it opened only one week after the "Barbenheimer" phenomenon. The movie was also based on a Disney theme park ride that had already been adapted for the big screen. What was shocking was the film's $157.7 million budget. That price tag made "Haunted Mansion" more expensive than "Barbie," "Godzilla vs. Kong," "Wonder Woman," and "Dunkirk," among countless other movies. Spending that much on a family horror movie that wasn't technically a sequel was always madness. After all, 2022's biggest genre effort, "Nope", had a $68 million budget, while 2023's box office phenomenon, "Five Nights at Freddy's," cost a measly $20 million.

Spending so much on "Haunted Mansion" didn't suddenly turn this title into a Marvel-sized box office powerhouse. Instead, "Haunted Mansion" only made $114.7 million, including $67.6 million domestically. That's significantly beneath the box office haul of "Goosebumps" and "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark," among other similar family-friendly horror titles. Launching "Haunted Mansion" in late July didn't just ensure that it competed with "Barbie," but felt at odds with the usual summer fare. Why was a film perfect for Halloween opening the same month as the latest "Mission: Impossible"? It's staggering to consider any Disney executive getting caught off-guard by "Haunted Mansion's" dismal box office run, given its ludicrous budget, aging IP, and release date.

The New Mutants

"The New Mutants" was once rife with box office potential. A thriftier "X-Men" spin-off rooted in horror, set for an April 2018 bow, seemed primed to continue the genre's box office hot streak that had started the previous year with "Get Out" and "It." "Deadpool" had also shown that "X-Men" movies could go to unorthodox corners and audiences would follow. However, "The New Mutants" was besieged by ongoing post-production woes that have now become legendary, including countless release date delays that pushed the movie into 2020. It eventually opened in late August 2020, when many movie theaters were still closed by COVID and people gazed warily at multiplexes that did reopen.

Under those conditions, it's no surprise "The New Mutants" flopped with a $47.5 million worldwide haul. Its disastrous $23.8 million domestic gross was less than the North American opening weekend of previous "X-Men" flop "Dark Phoenix." A darker "X-Men" feature would have always been a tough sell, but the fractured theatrical landscape in the summer of 2020 made "The New Mutants" one of a number of Marvel movies that became box office bombs. All that hope from years earlier had blossomed into financial woe once "The New Mutants" was finally unleashed on the world.