Stories of vomiting, passed-out patrons, and theater ambulance visits certainly helped. But the box-office success of “Terrifier 2” — the gory horror sequel from director Damien Leone that managed to make $10 million on a budget of a quarter-million bucks — is a perfect storm of viral marketing savvy and a revitalized interest in event cinema. Now, leading event cinema distributors are trying to chase down their own “Terrifier 2.”
Beyond “Terrifier 2” — which just held onto a domestic top 10-box office spot in its fifth weekend — last Saturday’s live stream of the “2022 League of Legends World Championship” made $405,000 from just over 400 locations. A recent live stream of two Coldplay concerts in Buenos Aires made over $1 million, just missing the top 10 for its weekend.
Fathom’s ongoing showings of the MET Opera and its recent Studio Ghibli Fest continue to perform, in some cases better than pre-pandemic levels. And Fathom recently announced that it licensed “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” another buzzy horror movie that leans on the public domain to create a violent take on the classic A.A. Milne characters, in the hopes it too can get some box office love.
“I think there’s more openness by the consumer to see these types of films that they can’t get anywhere but a theater,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told IndieWire. Exhibitors and distributors are more willing to take swings on event cinema if it leads to a high reward, he said, and landing in the top 10 can do wonders for a small release.
“They call it lightning in a bottle for a reason. It will be very hard to replicate the success, but the industry is certainly going to try,” said Dergarabedian.
In the case of “Terrifier 2,” all that organic buzz didn’t happen by accident. Iconic Releasing, which distributed “Terrifier 2,” staged a handful of screenings with influencers and members of Regal Unlimited to drum up excitement before the theatrical event release October 6. It also chose not to pursue an MPA rating to let fans know that the movie wouldn’t be censored from Leone’s vision. “Terrifier 2” made over $400,000 on opening night and changed everything.
“We have gold on our hands. We need to mine it,” Devon Canfield, VP of sales and distribution with Iconic Releasing, told IndieWire. Iconic and Cinedigm Entertainment Group quickly worked to convince theaters to pivot “Terrifier 2” from a two-night event release.
This weekend, Iconic will hold event theatrical screenings for UFC 281, but it’s a more challenging environment with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Canfield said some exhibitors are pulling back on the number of theaters they’re offering or choosing to not participate altogether.
Still, he said more theater owners see that a steady program of event cinema can build an audience that treats the big screen as a destination for events that are otherwise unavailable. Not to mention, it’s an opportunity use the live stream technology in which many theaters have already invested.
“Exhibitors are starting to come around a little more, but they can still be a little nervous,” Canfield said. “You’re trying to help change their minds to get them to see the potential.”
“Terrifier 2” provides a good case study. Even five weeks into its run, “Terrifier 2” is still playing like a traditional event-movie release, available for only one to two showtimes each night, maybe three, and drawing sizable crowds to each screening. Beyond that feat, it did the near-impossible and made more money in its second week and on fewer screens, opening to $800,000 and rising 28 percent the following weekend.
“It is a bright spot in the cosmos of exhibition right now, the fact that event cinema, there’s a compelling reason to go,” said Richard Abramowitz, CEO of indie distributor Abramorama. “There are a lot of good movies. Not all of them can justify five shows a day, seven days a week, just because the depth of audience isn’t there. But we can fill 150-200 seats just about any city in the country for one show.”
Fathom Events CEO Ray Nutt hopes the same will be true for “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” which Nutt tells IndieWire will open in an event release next February on somewhere between 700-900 screens and that they “fully suspect” it will be held over for additional weeks. Nutt says the acquisition of the film fits into a larger horror strategy for Fathom; in September, the distributor notched a $4.3 million worldwide gross for the release of “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn.”
While Nutt said Fathom began talking to “Blood and Honey” producers ITN Studios prior to the viral success of “Terrifier 2,” Iconic Events also circled “Blood and Honey” — but Fathom quickly closed the deal.
There’s still a place for opera and concert films’ live streams, but distributors see increased competition around original properties and seeking the next viral hit. That could be horror films, music documentaries or faith-based movies, a genre that has “gone completely nuts” for distributors and accounts for as much as a quarter of Fathom’s revenue, Nutt said.
“Having something that appeals to a younger audience, a lot of event cinema doesn’t,” Abramowitz said. “You’re dealing with opera and high-end programming, and that’s the audience that’s been a little harder to get back into theaters right now. So having a horror film at this particular time is programming that appeals to an audience that is less resistant in to going back into cinemas. It’s really a matter of finding films that have committed, dedicated, motivated audiences and informing them.”