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Why Annabelle's Cheap Gore Pays Off More Than Gone Girl

Photograph by Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection


Moviegoers spent about $63 million this past weekend to see Gone Girl, a critically praised film with an all-star cast. But Americans forked out almost as much to watchAnnabelle, a creepy horror flick starring a doll with a budget of less than $7 million.Gone Girl, by comparison, cost about $60 million to make. In other words, the cheap thriller started turning a profit sometime before Friday’s late show while the prestige film probably isn’t in the black yet—at least not for a few more hours.

When it comes to returns, inexpensive gore still provides Hollywood’s happiest endings. The formula isn’t complicated. Horror films are ridiculously cheap to make, in no small part because viewers don’t demand Ben Affleck-level actors. The films lend themselves to sequels, prequels, and spinoffs, locking in a devoted fan base for a string of low-cost products. Finally, horror movies tend to do best in the weeks leading up to Halloween, which is traditionally a bit of a wasteland in terms of major film releases—a lull between summer blockbusters and a glut of holiday films.

Jason Blum, the producer behind the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises,doesn’t even pay leading actors upfront. Instead, he arranges for them to get a cut of the profit, if there is one. The Purge, his latest hit, cost $3 million to make. Ethan Hawke, the lead actor, made $2 million—but only because the movie grossed $64 million.

Blum’s model, of course, isn’t new; he’s just been very successful with it. In fact, Hollywood hasn’t improved its profit-on-a-shoestring script since 1999 when The Blair Witch Project rounded up $201 million with a production budget of just $60,000. Only two horror films have made more money in the years since: World War Z, which cost almost $200 million to make, and What Lies Beneath, which had a budget of about $90 million.