What Does the Box Office Success of IT Mean for the Future of R-Rated Horror?

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in New Line Cinema's horror thriller, "IT", a Warner Bros. Pictures release (Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer)

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in New Line Cinema's horror thriller, "IT", a Warner Bros. Pictures release (Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer)

IT has taken a giant, clown-sized bite out of the box office over the weekend, breaking all sorts of records in the process including: highest September opening, highest international horror opening, and perhaps more importantly, highest R-rated horror film opening of all time. 

For any self-respecting horror fan, this is big news. R-rating are important because they let us know a movie ain't fucking around. There's blood. There's gore. A movie can go places it couldn't with a PG-13. Venturing into the unknown and unpleasant is what horror is all about, so this is what we've been waiting for! R-rated horror is back, it's making bank, and now we're wondering, "What does this mean for the future of horror?"

After one of their worst summers in recent history, there's no doubt that the clanging of the cash registers will make Hollywood sit up and take notice. IT clawed $117.2 million in estimated North American ticket sales over the weekend (with reports of $179 million internationally), effectively doubling industry expectations. 

Daniel Kaluuya in "GET OUT" from Universal Pictures

Daniel Kaluuya in "GET OUT" from Universal Pictures

It seems obvious that Hollywood has underestimated the audience's appetite for edgier genre fare. IT isn't even the first unexpected success story of the year, with Blumhouse's R-rated GET OUT earning almost universal critical acclaim and $252 million at the global box office on the back of a 4.5 million production budget. 

This should ensure Hollywood rushes headfirst into further horror production, right? Most signs point to yes, as recent history shows that the genre trends in waves. A little over twenty years ago, late master of horror Wes Craven reignited the teen slasher genre with SCREAM, which earned a staggering $173 million on a $14 million budget. The success of that film drove production of countless imitators, until the slasher ultimately faded back out of the mainstream and into obscurity. 

But like Pennywise, horror never goes away forever; it simply likes to go into hibernation. Every five or ten years, it crawls out of the sewer, claims a few victims, and then retreats again, lying in wait for its next opportunity to feed. After the late 90s teen slasher craze, the genre laid dormant until SAW brought us a wave of so-called "torture porn" in 2004, and then five years later it came back when PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spawned a slew of found footage flicks (for better or worse). 

And now here we are in 2017, balanced on the precipice of perhaps the most exciting horror success in many years. Not only is IT making money, it's getting good reviews from critics and audiences alike - the general consensus being that its quality is legitimate. The same can be said for GET OUT, which earned similar praise earlier in the year. 

We've been building up to this. Audiences have progressively leaned toward more literate horror fare like THE VVITCH, THE BABADOOK, and IT FOLLOWS, which all managed to find an audience despite being divisive. So, what now? 

The following is just my speculation, but I'm guessing the first thing we'll see is an influx of Stephen King adaptations, or re-adaptations. The long-delayed THE STAND will be finally rushed into production. A remake of PET SEMATARY will come next, then MISERY, and inevitably THE SHINING. I also expect that Warner Bros will try to wring more money out of IT and cleave the upcoming 2nd part into two films. 

Photo from www.stephanmcleroy.com "At the Mountains of Madness" 

Photo from www.stephanmcleroy.com "At the Mountains of Madness" 

What I would personally like to see is studios taking a bigger risk on R-rated horror adaptations. I'm looking squarely at Guillermo Del Toro's big-screen version of Lovecraft's AT THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS. He developed the project for years, but studio execs balked at the proposed $150 million cost, and in particular, the dreaded R-rating. Del Toro said: 

"I really think big-scale horror would be great...but there was a different of opinion; the studio didn't think so," he said. "The R [rating] was what made it. If 'Mountains' had been PG-13, or I had said PG-13...I'm too much of a Boy Scout, I should have lied, but I didn't." 

Perhaps the success of IT will give Hollywood more confidence to move forward with ambitious projects like AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADENSS? Us horror fans can only hope. 

NonSequitur