The big weekend showing by “The Purge: Anarchy” at the box office — it more than tripled its production budget with $29 million in its first three days — is a scenario that is turning into part of the strategy for Universal.
Simply put, the studio is trying to drive its bottom line by sending chills up your spine, and has now positioned itself to do so on the cheap and with big-budget tentpole projects.
Sunday’s decade-long extension of its partnership with low-budget horror king Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions is behind “The Purge” and several other cut-rate horror franchises, is a big part of the picture.
Another is last week’s disclosure that the studio is working with writer-producers Alex Kurtzman (the “Spider-Man” and “Star Trek” franchises) and Chris Morgan (the “Fast and Furious” movies) to reboot its classic monster movies like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Bride of Frankenstein and the Mummy.
“Every studio is mining whatever they have in their libraries to build new properties to create tentpole movies that will have global impact,” said BoxOffice.com vice-president and senior analyst Phil Contrino.
Those monster movie remakes are envisioned as action-thrillers rather than horror movies, and may to a degree make superheroes of the classic creatures. The goal is to intertwine and mix-and-match the monsters, creating a stable of related characters upon which to build franchises as Disney has done with Marvel’s and Warners Bros. has with the DC Comics cast.
They’ll be more traditional projects, considerably costlier to make and market than Blum’s specialty, which is producing chillers with tiny budgets that bring huge returns. The ceiling is higher — horror movies rarely play well overseas and achieve blockbuster-type global grosses — but the investment and risk are greater, too. Blum’s franchises “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” “The Purge” and “Sinister” have grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide — and the combined budgets of those movies is under $40 million.
As specialties go in today’s risk-averse movie business, that’s a great one.
The producer famously caught box-office lightning in a bottle in 2009 with the original “Paranormal Activity,” which was made for $15,000 and grossed close to $200 million worldwide, making it the most profitable film in Hollywood history. Since Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley brought the producer in 2011, the Blum business model has blossomed with the studio’s marketing and distribution muscle behind it.
“The marketing team and the producers really did a great job of working together with ‘Anarchy,'” said Contrino, noting that the bottom line on the original film screamed sequel, but there was a considerable criticism of the first movie from moviegoers. “They listened to their fan base and and made changes for ‘Anarchy,” and that obviously helped.
“Extending and broadening the deal with Blum makes sense,” Contrino continued. “His movies are more reliable a bet and less risky than just about anything in the marketplace right now, and should be very complimentary in terms of what Universal’s trying to do overall.”