Even during the pandemic, horror movies remain one of the most profitable genres at the box office

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Movie after movie, Hollywood’s recent blockbusters are struggling to return to ticket sales at the 2019 level. But “Candyman” once again proved what a profit-maker the horror genre is.

Over the weekend, the Universal Pictures film’s debut brought in $22 million in ticket sales domestically and another $5.2 million in international markets. The R-rated slasher movie is written by Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) and directed by Nia DaCosta (“The Marvels”).

The box office results beat industry expectations, although Covid-19 cases are increasing in much of the US due to the highly contagious delta variant. There are fears that the trend could keep people away from movie theaters.

Movie theaters have struggled to maintain momentum since reopening last year. The problem has been compounded by many high-profile franchise films made available in theaters and streaming services at the same time.

This was not the case for Hollywood’s 2021 horror films. The slate has been available exclusively in theaters, persuading audiences to experience terror and become afraid of the dark.

Industry analysts had expected “Candyman” to perform well at the box office, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

“The cinema experience is tailor-made for watching horror movies and so the relationship between theater exhibits and these most consistent, and indeed profitable, genres will persist as long as audiences are excited to be scared in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers,” said Dergarabedian.

With smaller budgets compared to other genres, horror movies don’t have to earn as much at the box office to make a profit.

“Candyman”, a sequel to the 1992 horror classic of the same name, had an estimated budget of $25 million. In its first weekend, it made more than $27 million in sales. Of course, the film had a marketing budget, which is usually calculated at about half the production budget. And the studio is sharing the theatrical gains with movie theaters, so it hasn’t recouped its investment yet, but it’s on the way.

“Horror movies are the dream of accountants and studio executives with huge earning potential due to their inherent cost effectiveness; you don’t have to break the bank to make a great scary movie and the box office results for the genre – especially during the pandemic – are the most impressive been,” said Dergarabedian.

Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was postponed due to the pandemic, has grossed nearly $300 million worldwide since its release in late May. It had an estimated budget of about $22 million.

The latest installment in the Conjuring film franchise, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” had a reported budget of approximately $40 million and has secured worldwide sales of $200 million since its debut in early June.

In comparison, Disney’s “Black Widow” had a production budget of $200 million and a marketing budget estimated at about $100 million. With worldwide box office receipts of $370 million since its release in early July, splitting the studio with theaters, the Marvel film is unlikely to break the bank. Disney has reported some of its streaming revenue for the title, including an opening weekend of $60 million in digital sales, but has not publicly updated these numbers.

Likewise Warner Bros.’ “The Suicide Squad,” which hit theaters earlier this month, had a budget of $185 million and currently has about $154.5 million in box office receipts. This movie has also been made available for free on HBO Max to subscribers to the platform.

Horror movies have fueled the box office even when cinemas closed last year. Notably, IFC’s “The Wretched,” released in May 2020, drew large crowds to drive-in theaters.

While the total amount of the film was only about $4.59 million, the production budget was only $66,000.

“This was during the pandemic when most of the theater revenue came from drive-ins, so this was a stunning ‘back to the future’ reminder that horror will always find a way to survive,” said Adam Lowenstein, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and author of ‘Shocking Representation’.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal has released “Candyman”.

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