Features and Columns · Movies

‘It’ is a Monster Hit

A Pennywise is a boatload of pennies earned.
By  · Published on September 11th, 2017

A Pennywise is a boatload of pennies earned.*

After weeks of weak selection at the multiplex, moviegoers went out in droves to a decent-looking, well-reviewed, fairly familiar horror drama. New Line’s new Stephen King adaptation IT opened with a whopping $123.4M (*or 12,340,341,900 pennies), not just blowing all its competition out of the storm drains but also breaking tons of records all over the place. Here are some of them:

– Best September opening of all time (even with adjustment for inflation)

– Best Fall (pre-holidays) opening of all time (even with adjustment for inflation)

– Best R-rated horror movie opening of all time (even adjusted for inflation)

– Best R-rated movie opening day of all time (even adjusted for inflation)

– Best Stephen King adaptation opening of all time (even adjusted for inflation)

– Highest-grossing Stephen King horror adaptation of all time (not adjusted)

– Lowest-budgeted movie to top $100M during its opening weekend

Just to clarify a few things there, it’s only the best R-rated horror because it fell short of Deadpool‘s $132.4M even though it bested that superhero movie on Friday with the best R-rated first-day gross ($51M). And it’s only the best King horror adaptation because The Green Mile has a total unadjusted gross of $136.8M. With inflation adjustment, IT is still already the seventh-highest-grossing King adaptation domestically. By next week, it’ll pass Stand By Me, Pet SemataryMiseryCarrie, and The Shining to truly be in second place. Later it could very well overtake The Green Mile for the crown.

As for that last record, credit goes to Scott Mendelson of Forbes for pointing out that IT is the cheapest hit of this size ever, having only cost $35M. And the reason I specify it’s only the best R-rated horror opener is due to Mendelson allowing for Jurassic World and The Lost World: Jurassic Park to be classified as horror movies. He’s probably right, but I’d give it to IT as far as movies definitely (well, some people disagree) classifiable as horror.

Meanwhile, IT comes in third on the list of best openings of the year, giving a big F.U. to summer given that the season is over and the two better debuts belong to Beauty and the Beast, which opened in March, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which just barely qualified as a summer movie opening in the first weekend of May. A horror movie about a killer clown did just slightly better than the latest Spider-Man reboot, and whooped the latest Fast and Furious and Despicable Me movies.


So what happens now? We know that IT will be getting the “Chapter Two” sequel it needs in order to complete the adaptation. We know Warner Bros., which put out IT via New Line, is already interested in multiple Joker movies, which are relevant to its villain clown appeal. And we can expect a ton more King adaptations, including those already on the way such as Netflix’s Gerald’s Game. Other possible blockbusters based on King could include another remake of a ’90s miniseries: The Stand.

Some of the things that shouldn’t happen as a result of IT‘s success: half-assed King adaptations just to cash in (we did see another King adaptation flop just a month ago, let’s not forget); generic clown horror movies flooding the market of the genre (two cheapies debuted last week alongside IT and that’s enough); turning IT into a franchise with multiple sequels, not to mention a mega-franchise cinematic universe thing — complete the book, and that’s all we need.


If there’s anything to take away from IT being such a tremendous hit, it’s the same old story: make quality pictures with some sort of mass appeal and market it well, and the people will show up. Horror is being talked about as having a special year now given the success of ItSplit, and Get Out, and of course all of these received positive reviews and had a lot of good buzz. Annabelle: Creation, which is about to pass the $100M mark, as well.

Forget all the attempts to bring horror into the blockbuster arena with things like World War Z and The Mummy. Those will always do fine, especially overseas, but the best return for the money is not hybridizing horror with action or sci-fi or comedy. It’s the horror drama, which the three big ones this year qualify as. They’re strong dramatic stories that happen to also involve some scary supernatural threat.

Of course, it should be pointed out that American horror movies don’t always do as well globally as they do domestically. So far, IT has broken the records for best opening of a horror movie in the UK, Russia, Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Poland, though that’s still not huge business compared to bigger releases. The movie picked up an additional $62M overseas. Split matched its domestic number overseas, while Get Out has grossed only $77M from foreign markets.

The Annabelle prequel did perform better elsewhere, however. Its foreign gross is already $184M. But it’s notable that these four titles are in 10th (Get Out), 16th (Split), 18th (IT), and 22nd (Annabelle: Creation) for the year domestically — with The Mummy at #26 — yet only 21st (Annabelle: Creation), 27th (Split), 39th (Get Out), and 44th (IT), while The Mummy is #12.

Here’s the top 10 box office for the weekend:

1. IT — $123.4M
2. Home Again  — $8.6M
3. The Hitman’s Bodyguard — $4.8M
4. Annabelle: Creation — $4M
5. Wind River — $3.1M
6. Leap! — $2.4M
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming — $2M
8. Dunkirk — $1.9M
9. Logan Lucky — $1.7M
10. The Emoji Movie — $1.1M

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.