Can ‘It’ Reverse the Trend of Terrible September Horror Films?

Despite the predicted success of Andy Muschietti’s ‘It,’ September has historically been a terrible month for horror movies.
By  · Published on September 5th, 2017

Despite the predicted success of Andy Muschietti’s ‘It,’ September has historically been a terrible month for horror movies.

I think it was Bloody Disgusting writer John Squires that put it best: while there’s nothing wrong with starting your Halloween festivities in August, anyone who says September is too early for horror films and candy corn can, and I’m paraphrasing here, get bent. September is the perfect time to start your Halloween preparations in earnest, and if that means digging up those old VHS copies of never-released-on-DVD horror films or putting the finishing touches on your couples costumes, rest assured that your actions are 100% season appropriate. September is Halloween’s tailgate party.

This particular September even comes with an opening salvo: Andres Muschietti’s It, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that has critics raving and fans buzzing. It is currently tracking for a $60 million-plus opening weekend, so now seemed like a good time to take a look at how Hollywood ramps up its horror movie releases in August, September, and October. We all know that October is where the really good shit hits, but surely, Hollywood must recognize the truth in Squires’s comments on Halloween. With that in mind, I pulled some numbers for the last decade of horror releases to see how horror films have historically done over these three particular months. The answers, as they say, will surprise you.

First, a few notes on methodology. Each of the movies selected for this list were wide release films; any film that did not feature publicly available budgets or grosses was scrubbed from the list (sorry, Skinwalkers). To ensure that the list was as consistent as possible, I also drew a line in the sand between ‘horror’ films and ‘thrillers’ by using the generic designations by The Numbers as my guide. This means movies like The GiftTyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween and The Visit were all excluded – as well as the Resident Evil movies, despite TNumbers’s’s instance that they belonged – even though many of them might sit comfortably within the horror genre. Since these movie genres are mostly artificial determinations and mean more as marketing categories than descriptors, I figured why not let Hollywood self-select for us?

All of that being said, here’s the numbers:

On average, these August horror releases grossed $37.45 million against a budget of $18.04 million; September releases grossed $21.95 million against $16.21 million; and October releases grossed $41.92 million against $16.96 million. Between August and October, 12 movies were released that grossed at least $40 million domestically; September only featured one, 2013’s Insidious Chapter 2, which grossed more than $83 million at the box office. When taken together, all of these numbers point to one very consistent trend: despite similar costs, horror movies releases across these three months have wildly different responses at the box office, and September is the red-headed stepchild of the family.

Any number of external factors could point to an overall decrease in box office come September: kids head back to school, football is back on television, and Hollywood is busy talking up its prestigious Oscar season reasons in the year’s final few months. What may be better, however, is to think less of September as a dip and August as more of a stealthily bear market for Halloween enthusiasm. A quick look at Google Trends reveals that keyword searches for ‘Halloween’ begin to spike every year in August, and while they only continue to increase in volume over the next three months, there’s definitely something to say about being first to market. This is a trend we’ve seen major studios capitalize on in the past two years, with 2016’s Don’t Breath and this past month’s Annabelle: Creation both grossing $88 million or more with audiences.

That’s the quantitative values. What about the qualitative ones? Here’s a list of RottenTomatoes scores from that same time period:

Here’s a surprising trend for you: while horror films released in August are predictably not the most successful at the box office, they are typically the most successful with critics. August releases had an average RottenTomatoes score of 44.5, September releases a 16.2, and October releases a 34.4. This is largely owed to the 70+ scores of movies like You’re NextDon’t Breath, and Pirahna 3D (?); meanwhile, October’s releases tend to be a collection of remakes and sequels, with four Saw movies and three Paranormal Activity sequels leading the pack. Meanwhile, September continues to be hilariously terrible across the board, coming in far lower than either August or October due to some extremely terrible RottenTomatoes scores (including an old-fashioned donut for 2016’s The Disappointments Room).

These are the rules that Warner Bros. seems to be breaking with Muschietti’s It. If you want to release a smart horror film, you release it in August; if you want to release a horror film that plenty of people will see, you wait until October. By contrast, It will undoubtedly become one of the highest-grossing and highest rated September horror releases of the past decade by its second week in theaters. Is this the beginning of a new trend for how Hollywood thinks about horror films? Or did Warner Bros. just luck their way into a big movie in a bad slot? Either way, September should get back to its old tricks soon enough: Friend Request will hit theaters in just two weeks despite being released abroad 18 months ago. Now there’s the September horror movie we all know and love.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)