The Quorum

Universal Looks To Dominate Weird And Wild Halloween

In a bit of under-the-radar news, last week Lionsgate quietly shifted the release date for SAW X from October 27th up to September 29th. That may seem like a rather unremarkable date change, except that it was one more chapter in what’s shaping up to be an unusual Halloween season. It also now leaves Universal as the king of Halloween horror this year.  That’s because Universal has THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER opening on October 13th and FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S arriving two weeks later. Yes, before the date change, SAW X and FREDDYS were slated to go head-to-head. 

Let’s break down this somewhat convoluted situation.  

First of all, let’s point out that the last weekend in October is frequently a box office deadzone, especially if Halloween falls on that Friday or Saturday. But even if the 31st falls mid-week, people tend to go to Halloween parties on the weekend before. That translates to lower box office. 

That certainly could have played into the decision to move SAW X, but then again, this is something Lionsgate would have known about when they originally scheduled the film for October 27th. But what about FREDDY? Surely Universal knows the last week in October is slow. Why would they keep FREDDY–a potential new horror franchise–on that date?

Indeed, they know it’s a soft weekend, and as a result they are releasing FREDDY day-and-date on Peacock. Yes, we know. We thought we were done with day-and-date releases, but apparently not. And in Universal’s defense, if there ever is a time for a hybrid release, this is the weekend to do it. Those without Halloween plans can go see it in a theater and those hosting parties can watch it at home. 

Yeah, it sucks. But at least it makes sense. As you know, The Quorum issues opening weekend projections on a weekly basis beginning once a film is within six weeks of release. As a side note, we will NOT be issuing a projection for FREDDY since there is no way to know how Peacock viewership will impact ticket sales. Nor will FREDDY be used as comp for future theatrical releases, in the same way that we don’t use HALLOWEEN KILLS or HALLOWEEN ENDS for the same reason. 

For those of us who are pro-theatrical, Universal’s decision is a bit of a bummer. And it seems like a lost opportunity for Universal since FREDDY is already showing signs of solid support thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign that already includes two trailers. Awareness and interest in the film are high, but the most compelling sign of excitement around the film is the fact that, week after week, FREDDY shows signs of unaided awareness in the 1% to 2% range. 

That may sound underwhelming. But as we’ve noted ad nauseam, unaided awareness is highly correlated to performance. It is very unusual to see a film show any level of unaided awareness four months before release. So yes, 1% to 2% is a big deal. Clearly, the FREDDY fanbase knows and is excited about this film. And when you’re dealing with that groundswell of support months before release, it makes you sit up and take notice. In other words, there are signs that the film could flourish with a theatrical-only release. 

Not only is Universal doing a fantastic job marketing FREDDY, but we are madly in love with the campaign for THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER. Last week, the studio gave us three absolutely terrifying posters for EXORCIST.

This is unusual for two reasons. First, we rarely see a studio willing to go this visually dark with artwork–even for this genre. Second, studios rarely rely on one-sheets when marketing horror films. 

Having said that, it was Universal that educated the rest of Hollywood on how to leverage posters for a horror release a decade ago with the campaign for THE PURGE. That film seemingly came out of nowhere to open to $34M in June of 2013. Sure, it had an incredibly sticky concept. But what put that film over the top was a truly terrifying outdoor campaign. 

Five films later, we all know what THE PURGE is. But imagine driving down the street in 2013, before anyone had heard of THE PURGE, and seeing these posters plastered all over town. Genius and very, very unsettling. Universal redefined the art of horror marketing at a time when no one was using outdoor to market horror films. 

Artwork aside, there are other reasons to be excited for BELIEVER. When THE EXORCIST was released the day after Christmas in 1973, little did anyone know that it would go on to be the highest-grossing film of the year. The movie drew an astonishing $230M. 

It also became the first horror film to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. And it even took home two statuettes, for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. 

To no one’s surprise, several sequels followed, though none came even close to matching the original. In fact, none have grossed over $50M. It has been a franchise of squandered potential.  

After a 1977 sequel, it would be another 13 years before we got THE EXORCIST III–another bomb–and another 14 years before EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING In 2004. That one also tanked. 

There’s reason to think that the newest entry, THE EXORCIST BELIEVER, may return the franchise to its former glory. Not just because it’s directed by David Gordan Green, who breathed new life into the most recent HALLOWEEN trilogy, but because Ellen Burstyn is reprising the role of “Chris MacNeil” for the first time since the original film, now 50-years-old.

Green has a knack for bringing back key stars. He got Jamie Lee Curtis to return to HALLOWEEN in 2018 after she opted out of the franchise following 2002’s HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. If there’s one thing we know, bringing original talent back to a sequel greatly increases its chance for success.While we’re excited to see how the BELIEVER campaign unfolds, and though we do wish Universal would give FREDDY a pure theatrical release, there’s no denying that the upcoming months will be great for the genre. Horror fans will now get a steady stream of horror films in September and October, starting with THE NUN 2 on September 8th then segueing to IT LIVES INSIDE on September 22nd, SAW X the following week, and the two Universal titles in October

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