When was the last time you saw a horror movie with a $200 million budget? A killer chiller with production values that would water the eyes of even Marvel Studios? Think back. Nope, further…further…exactly, you haven’t! And why not, you ask? Well, there’s a very simple two-part answer. One, horror doesn’t attract the masses in the same way that a space opera like STAR WARS or a superhero ensemble like THE AVENGERS does. Two, it’s just plain cheaper to make audiences wet themselves.
In an age of summer tent poles that consist of comic book adaptations, and television sweeps weeks focusing on cliffhanging procedural dramas, where does horror truly shine? If recent box office performance is any indication, the cheaper the better. For most horror aficionados, it isn’t about which A-list stars headline a flick, or even what striking CG-charged set-pieces are teased in the trailers, but rather it’s about whether or not a movie can make those hairs on the back of their necks stand on end.
Like everything else in life, however, choosing one genre over another comes at an opportunity cost. Trending data over the last decade has placed the average price of producing a romantic comedy at 24% that of distributing a star-studded action blockbuster. Of course, the choice to produce something on a smaller budget over another option is, more often than not, reflected in the total box office returns that a film reaps. But what about subgenres? You can label a movie “horror”, sure, but there is quite a bit of variance within that label. Take the supernatural, for example. How expensive is it to produce a haunted house flick like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR over, say, a slasher like FRIDAY THE 13TH, or even an action-horror the likes of Len Wiseman’s UNDERWORLD? It just so happens that we have a budget breakdown by subgenre to help paint that gruesome picture.
For purposes of this comparative analysis, we will be taking a look at a broad spectrum of subgenres that span the proverbial gamut of horror, everything from the gothic to the psychological. Utilizing the last several decades of cost data, along with an inflation-adjusted economics index, as a basis of estimate, the average budgets for these 8 subgenres are as follows:
- Action Horror
Inclusive of films that blend terror tropes with elements of mainstream action, such as elaborate fight choreography, explosive chase scenes, etc. Films that made it into this analysis included the ALIEN & PREDATOR franchises, UNDERWORLD franchise, as well as various vampire and zombie one-offs.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $39 million
- Psychological Horror
Inclusive of films that address themes of emotional instability and/or fear built on tension. Flicks that made the cut for this analysis included THE SHINING, ROSEMARY’S BABY, SPLIT, GET OUT, and the like.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $27.4 million
- Science Fiction Horror
Encompassing cross-over tropes such as mad scientists or experiments gone horribly awry. Films that made it into this analysis included John Carpenter’s THE THING, the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, THE BLOB, and many more.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $68.6 million
This all-too-familiar subgenre usually revolved around a deranged killer taking out his/her victims one-by-one, Agatha Christie style, until there were none. The films that made the cut included Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Don Mancini’s CHILD’S PLAY and so on.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $17.1 million
A bit of a more recent phenomenon, the splatter genre comprises all manner of the utterly graphic, from the SAW to the HOSTEL franchises.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $8.4 million
- Supernatural Horror
The tried and true granddaddy of jump scares, this subgenre lays claim to such frights as THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, SINSITER, and IT.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $17.7 million
- Gothic Horror
Typically evocative of Transylvanian-set period pieces with a splash of romance thrown in, gothic horror boasts an impressive roster that includes such gems as DRACULA, NOSFERATU, and SLEEPY HOLLOW.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $51.8 million
- Found Footage Horror
The progenitor of some of modern horror’s most wildly successful breakouts, this subgenre has several noteworthy credits to its name, not least of all the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise, CLOVERFIELD, and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.
Inflation-adjusted 2018 average budget: $2.8 million
Budget numbers are all well and good, but if its costs 99 cents to make $1, was it really all worth it? Let’s take these budget numbers and pit them against the inflation-adjusted 2018 average box-office receipts for a clearer picture of the smartest genre choice for filmmakers.
Budget less P&A Box Office Earnings Ratio
- Action Horror $39.0 $173.8 346.1%
- Psychological Horror $27.4 $180.0 556.4%
- Science Fiction Horror $68.6 $157.9 130.1%
- Slasher $17.1 $94.3 450.0%
- Splatter $8.4 $127.2 1,414.7%
- Supernatural Horror $17.7 $160.8 808.5%
- Gothic Horror $51.8 $202.7 291.7%
- Found Footage Horror $2.8 $192.5 6,751.7%
A picture paints a thousand words, doesn’t it? Now don’t get your dice in a vice, this is by no means a knock on any underperforming genre. History isn’t always the best indicator of the future. However, based on the data above, audiences seem to have spoken in recent years. Regardless, though, of your personal subgenre preference, one thing is for sure: a good scare, whether from a knife-wielding psychopath or an acid-dripping extraterrestrial, doesn’t exactly come cheap any way you slice it, dice it, or otherwise price it.