After a dismal Summer for Hollywood, wherein audience attendance dropped, box office revenue hit a new low and multiplex chains suffered painful hits to their stock price, the film industry is betting big on the Fall season. While there were obvious glimmers of success over the Summer, from the record breaking heights of Wonder Woman to indie hits like Baby Driver, they did little to cushion the blow of a massive 35% drop in August numbers compared to the same time last year. The final weekend of August alone managed to incur the worst box office weekend of the past 16 years. The blame has been pushed around – from competition with TV to the ever-present straw-man of Rotten Tomatoes – but one thing was clear: If audiences weren’t excited for your film, they weren’t going to bother turning up to support it.
Now, as we enter the Fall season, there are two major events on the movie calendar coming up: The beginning of awards season, and Halloween. The former offers strong opportunities for festival favorites and more adult oriented dramas to gain a foothold at the box office with less blockbuster competition (anticipated sequels like Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok won’t arrive until November), while Halloween remains the obviously perfect moment for horror films to flourish. Yet the most anticipated horror film of the year, the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal novel IT, was released in the first week of September.
Whatever the reasons for that specific release date, IT has stormed ahead of the competition and landed at number one on the box office this week, taking an utterly shocking $117m domestically, with a global total of nearly $180m. While industry projections estimated an already generous opening weekend of between $65 – 75m, Andy Muschietti's take on what many consider to be King's horror magnum opus far surpassed expectations. Friday’s projections had IT grossing over $80m, but now it’s become the biggest domestic launch since Spider-Man: Homecoming's $117m opening weekend gross from this July. Its Thursday night preview numbers alone - $13.5m - are the third highest of 2017, behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Beauty and the Beast. All of this happened even with a drop in theaters due to Hurricane Irma in Florida and continued recovery from Harvey in Texas.
IT was certainly helped by a lack of major competition. The only new release of the week with a comparable number of theaters was Home Again, a Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy that was clearly aiming for a different audience than IT. Still, the movie has taken in the kind of money many would expect from the tentpole blockbusters, not a mid-budget R-rated horror about a murderous clown terrorizing a group of kids.
The sheer anticipation surrounding the film can’t be overstated. IT remains one of the horror genre’s most influential texts and while the mini-series adaptation from the 1980s starring Tim Curry has its charms, it was clear that an update was needed. 2017 has proven to be an interesting year for King’s work – The Dark Tower flopped but both The Mist and Mr. Mercedes have been intriguing television audiences and the upcoming Netflix movie of Gerald’s Game has ensured the legendary author’s presence this year remains at its peak.
It’s hard to deny the other shadow hanging over IT, one that was heavily influenced by the book and in turn has made its mark on the new movie – Netflix’s award-winning series Stranger Things. Echoes of King’s work are all over the ‘80s set supernatural drama, but IT is especially influential in its execution, and now, one month before season 2 premieres, the cycle is complete. That’s not to say there’s a direct link between Stranger Things’ success and IT’s major box office numbers, but the show played heavily on a hunger for that brand of nostalgia and certainly kept the memories of Pennywise and the Losers Club fresh in audiences’ minds. We wouldn’t be surprised if Muschietti sent the Duffer Brothers a thank you gift basket for their contributions.
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