Over the weekend, Blumhouse Productions’ Get Out exceeded box office expectations with a solid $33.4 million opening (about $3 million more than early estimates) and became another success story for the company. They have managed to make a bit of a fortune off of micro-budgeted horror films while respecting the genre and its fans. In a time where major studios don’t seem to get the genre, Blumhouse clearly understands it and is giving the fans what they want in the process.
This isn’t the first time a production company attempted to be the voice of the genre. Dimension Films, which was used within Miramax starting in the mid-90s before ownership shifted over to The Weinstein Company, seemed to be the home for genre entries but there was always an asterisk next to a lot of their productions. While it was nice to have a place for Halloween and Hellraiser to call home, the division became notorious for meddling with the creative process, which often resulted in sub-par films. Even their bigger success story, the Scream franchise, went through some of that interference as early as the first film and it was essentially the norm by the time that franchise hit its fourth installment. It’s the stuff of legend that Bob Weinstein, in particular, seemed to believe he knew what was best for all of the films under the Dimension banner, even if it was clear the quality was declining. If a genre division of a studio didn’t respect the creative process then who would?
I first heard about Blumhouse Productions back in 2009. I knew that Jason Blum was the founder but I didn’t know what kind of player the production company was going to be. In 2009, they were behind Paranormal Activity but Paramount Pictures had their name all over it as well so I kind of overlooked the exact involvement that Blumhouse had with the production.
Once I did some research, I learned that Paranormal Activity cost a mere $15,000 to make and the Blumhouse motif was to produce movies independently and release them wide through the studio system. This allows a bit of creative control and it certainly could yield huge profits if this model could work.
It turns out that it REALLY worked the first time around. Paranormal Activity displayed how creative the production company could get with its marketing (the film was rolled out slowly with trailers indicating that audiences demand the film be shown in their respective areas) and it generated enough interest to turn the film into a huge hit. The end result was a massive gross of $193 million worldwide and the birth of a new franchise that has grossed over 30 times their collective production budgets.
While the franchise has been up and down in quality for film critics, the first film was a true success story critically and showed that quality horror films could be produced and embraced by the target audience. Paranormal Activity sits with an impressive 83% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and even though films like this get their share of naysayers, the overall feeling was that it was a solid genre effort that was released by a company who was beginning to have its pulse on the needs of the genre.
After the release of Paranormal Activity 2, which also proved to be highly successful, Blumhouse Productions produced Insidious in 2011. The film was directed by James Wan who seemed to be creatively in the zone by the time he made the film and was distributed by FilmDistrict, which was their first theatrical release.
Insidious was another original vision that Blumhouse Productions seemed to really get. It was marketed in just the right way and the film became a bit of a surprise hit domestically and proved even more successful with its home release. The film grossed $93 million worldwide on a $1.5 million budget and was also a creative hit for the genre with a 66% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Most importantly, genre fans really embraced the film with many declaring it as one of the best horror films of the last few years. It also sparked its own franchise with a fourth installment on the way as each film has proved to be profitable.
Blumhouse Productions next big success story came in 2012 with the release of Sinister. The model would be the same by keeping the budget low (this time at $3 million) and making sure the marketing spoke to fans of the genre. The film was distributed by Summit Entertainment and became a bit of a surprise hit when it was released. The film grossed $77.7 million worldwide and scored a still fresh for the genre 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. This became another film that seemed to really speak to the fans of the genre and by this time Blumhouse was becoming a name linked to unique genre films.
2013 was a significant year for Blumhouse because it began a union with Universal Pictures which led to a 10 year first look deal between the production company and the major studio. Their first film together was The Purge, whose high-concept story of a day of legalized crime, essentially marketed itself. The story felt fresh and new which has been what the production company has been about since its early hit films.
The Purge was another micro-budgeted effort that cost $3 million to make and grossed a solid $89.3 million worldwide. When it opened to $34.1 million, it became the lowest budgeted film to hit the top spot since 1988, which is not a bad record to break. The film wasn’t embraced by critics with a rotten rating of 34% on Rotten Tomatoes but the film had its fans which resulted in more installments. Each film has grossed more than the previous effort (The Purge: Anarchy – $111 million worldwide & The Purge: Election Year – $118 million worldwide) and the next sequel should follow suit when it’s released in July of next year.