UPDATED with more insight: The horror franchise reboot craze which Hollywood reaped off during the early part of the millennium looked as good as dead last year.
Than this weekend, Universal/Miramax/Blumhouse’s Halloween, the 11th sequel in a 40-year-old franchise, opened to $76.2M, making it the best start ever for the John Carpenter franchise, second-best domestic debut for a horror movie and the second best October opening; Sony’s Venom setting an $80.2M record three weekends ago.
It’s an age old Hollywood business axiom: Say a certain type of movie isn’t possible commercially (read, pirate movies), until someone proves it is. Moviegoers’ tastes in horror in recent years have escalated to embracing original, smart fare such as Get Out, Split , Don’t Breathe, and A Quiet Place; pics that were quite often critically acclaimed.
Beginning with the Marcus Nispel directed, Jessica Biel 2003 headliner Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($28M opening, $80.5M domestic, $107WW), mass moviegoers started thirsting rebooted, glossy franchise horror movies from edgy young directors and featuring burgeoning hot stars. Quite often this remakes notched a franchise’s best openings, i.e. 2005 Amityville Horror starring Ryan Reynolds ($23.5M opening, $65.2M domestic), a 2010 Nighmare on Elm Street with Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger and Rooney Mara. ($32.9M opening, $63M dom, $115.6M WW) and two Rob Zombie-helmed Halloween movies the first of which in 2007 held the previous opening record in the Michael Myers canon with $26.3M, $58.2M domestic.
Then the whole horror renaissance ran out of life. Lionsgate tried to revive the Blair Witch Project and Saw brands respectively with dismal results ($9.6M, $20.7M domestic) and Jigsaw ($16.6M, $38M). Paramount’s attempt last year to revive Japanese horror pic Rings ($13M, $27.7M) failed, forcing them to pull the plug on another big horror redo, Friday the 13th (however, news broke today that Roy Lee’s Vertigo Entertainment and LeBron James’ SpringHill Entertainment are in talks to revive it). Meanwhile, Dimension’s Amityville: The Awakening for various reasons skipped a wide theatrical release and was jettisoned to GooglePlay where it was available for free.
Yet despite these dead bodies, there was a thirst and a belief on behalf of Blumhouse and Miramax to reinvigorate Halloween.
The recent attempt to reboot Halloween started with Zanne Devine, former Miramax EVP of Film and TV, David Thwaites, Miramax’s SVP of film. Thwaites’ duties entailed combing through the Miramax library, tracking the film rights that the company owned and developing them. The Weinstein Co. had a longstanding, rolling option agreement with Miramax which Halloween was part of. Miramax’s Dimension made three Halloween movies in 1995, 1998 and 2002 followed by the Weinstein/Dimension’s Zombie titles in 2007 and 2009. When the option with TWC/Dimension expired, Thwaites and Devine swooped in. Initially, Miramax pondered what do with Halloween; Thwaites suggested to Devine that the next film be treated as the true sequel to the first movie. The Halloween rights were co-owned by Malek Akkad, whose father Syrian filmmaker Moustapha Akkad produced all eight movies, and if Miramax was going to regain distribution rights another Michael Myers movie, it was important to get Malek Akkad back on board. Devine reached out to Akkad and got to know him. He was frustrated that there hadn’t been a great Halloween movie made, but she had a solution: Put the property in the hands of someone who knows what works with today’s horror audiences, that being Blumhouse.
Thwaites phoned up Jason Blum about the idea. Devine and Blumhouse president Charles Layton then connected. Blumhouse’s VP of development Ryan Turek was stoked, and beat the drum to boss Blum that there had never been a Halloween movie done right. For Blum though, “we couldn’t do Halloween without John Carpenter”. Typically, when it comes to horror sequels, studios will shoehorn in a new director, because it’s cheaper and too expensive to carry the original creator or stars from sequel to sequel. Blumhouse had a way around that though in his company’s approach to financing where above-the-line typically takes a bigger back-end based on great profits and a smaller upfront payment.
“Whenever we do a horror sequel, we always involve the original person who created it whether it’s James DeMonaco with The Purge, or Christopher Landon with Happy Death Day or James Wan and Leigh Whannel with the Insidious movies,” says Blum.
But there was another key reason why Blum wanted to get Carpenter on board with Halloween and that had to do with a lesson he learned after he veered from his franchise building m.o.
“Three years ago this weekend, Jem and the Holograms opened, and I said publicly it was a wipeout for us. What we learned from the failure –a mistake which we won’t make again– is that you can’t do a sequel or a franchise movie without involving the original creators,” Blum tells Deadline.
So here’s what happened in regards to landing Carpenter:
“I had a 15 minute meeting with John,”says Blum, “I pitched my heart out and he seemed unimpressed.“
“At the very last minute, I said ‘look, John, they are going to do this sequel no matter what. And If you are out, I am out…Why not this time, instead of grouching from the sidelines, join me and we’ll try and make it great. He scowled and said ‘I’m In!'”
In addition to executive producing, Carpenter boarded with son Cody Carpenter to compose the 11th pic’s score. His attachment was announced back in May 2016,and Blumhouse agreed to finance the original budgeted $10M production with Miramax. Later on Universal took foreign rights and handled domestic distribution for a fee.
By February 2017, David Gorden Green boarded to direct and co-write with his Eastbound & Down partner Danny McBride. One would think that they seemed like outsiders to the genre with their black comedic sense of humor, but that was exactly Blumhouse’s point, who was key in landing them: Choose great filmmakers, with a fresh sensibility, not specifically genre filmmakers for horror, i.e. Jordan Peele came out of sketch comedy and created the socio-political Oscar-winning horror pic Get Out.
By April last year, QED founder Bill Block was named CEO of the new Miramax reporting to Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Chairman of beIN Media Group which took over the label in 2016. Several cuts were made at the company. Devine and Thwaites were part of the mix, but they remained aboard Halloween as EPs. Many projects wound up being put into turnaround, but not Halloween. There were two options for the project to be a go: One with and without Jamie Lee Curtis’ attachment. A ScreenEngine study commissioned by Miramax showed that the only way for the next Halloween to be a commercial success was with Curtis aboard.
Separately, we hear that Universal marketing boss Michael Moses was a huge champion in insisting Curtis’ attachment to the project. Leading up to this weekend’s huge release, Moses and his team designed a campaign which had Curtis announcing her return on social media in September 2017. The first trailer launched in June to record-setting results with more than 23M views in its first eight hours and 160M-plus views to date. Word of mouth lit up like a bonfire following the pic’s world premiere in TIFF’s Midnight Madness. Throughout the campaign, the masked Michael Myers made appearances at several key events including film festivals, San Diego and New York Comic-Cons, Curtis’ Jimmy Kimmel Live! segment in addition to visiting various metropolitan landmark locations across the U.S. Television spots ran during key events, i.e. the finale of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, NFL games on CBS, FOX’s 911, VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood, and USA’s The Purge.
“It’s like Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again: There’s only one James Bond. With Halloween, there’s only one Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strodes and to have the opportunity for her to reprise her iconic role, confronting Michael Myers and her past was irresistible,” says Block.
How do you convince an actress to join the 11th sequel of a horror franchise 40 years later and for the fifth time?
The last time Curtis starred in the franchise was 16 years ago in Halloween: Resurrection. We understand that Jake Gyllenhaal, Curtis’ godson, was instrumental in putting in a great word about Green to her; the actor having recently worked with the filmmaker on the Boston Marathon bombing survivor drama Stronger. We also hear Curtis became intrigued by Gordon and McBride’s pitch which revolved around three generations of women, accentuated female empowerment and explored the idea of a survivor’s trauma 40 years later.
Curtis tweeted proudly today, “OK. I’m going for one BOAST post. Biggest horror movie opening with a female lead. Biggest movie opening with a female lead over 55. Second biggest October movie opening ever. Biggest Halloween opening ever
After the movie was shot, testing showed there was some need for improvement. Around $5M worth of reshoots were ordered with the ending tightened up in a cat-and-mouse climax, raising pic’s total production cost to $15M. Testing and fixing is par for the course for creating any hit; read the original ending of Get Out had Daniel Kaluuya’s protagonist Chris Washington incarcerated, a finale that moviegoers thumbed down. Blumhouse didn’t want to cheat audience, and instead had Washington see a happy ending after moviegoers’ deeply connected with him. The end result: Get Out made $176M stateside, $255.4M worldwide.
Industry sources say that Halloween is bound to profit in its first week during its theatrical cycle (joining other black-ink films like Get Out and Split) and ultimately send Blumhouse past the $4 billion mark at the global box office. A $200M domestic end-game is a given, and the film was strategically launched to leg into the Halloween holiday.
Said Blum, “I’m proud that this is a movie about three generations of strong women overcoming the ultimate villain. Jamie Lee Curtis is an EP on the movie and along with John she’s been our steward on Halloween from the start”