Hollywood’s Feel-Good Horror Story

Annarah Cymone in The Midnight Club. Eike Schroter/Netflix
Julia Alexander
September 27, 2022

After all the tabloid drama, Don’t Worry, Darling finally hit theaters this weekend and took in $30 million worldwide. Not bad. But it’s also not the film story that’s most interesting to me. That award goes to Barbarian, a Skarsgård-starring horror pic from 20th Century Studios that has also generated just over $30 million globally, over two weeks, but at a fraction of the production cost. Now the film is expanding in its third week into 500 additional theaters in the U.S. And its week-over-week decline hovered at around 29 percent this weekend—that’s not just good, it’s exceptional. 

Barbarian’s lowkey success speaks to the enduring power of the horror genre in the streaming age. Demand share for horror movies, both in theaters and via streaming, hovered around 16 percent in the U.S. during the past 18 months, demonstrating a consistent increase each month within that period of time, according to data from Parrot Analytics, where I work as director of strategy. New films like The Black Phone, Scream, and Nope have all grossed more than $140 million at the global box office.

Jason Blum once told me that consumer demand for horror goes through supercycles where clusters of films dominate the zeitgeist (like the “Splat Pack” era in the mid-aughts to the early 2010s) and moments where horror fades into the background. That’s sort of true; more than anything, I suspect Blum was just being humble about his incredible success as a producer. The reality is that horror films—which don’t require big budgets and rarely rely on A-list or even B-list stars—have always been some of the most reliable profit-generators in Hollywood. And that’s especially meaningful in these uncertain, risk-averse times.