"Halloween Kills," the 12th installment in the horror franchise, slashed its way to the top of the North American box office over the weekend, exceeding film industry expectations and nabbing about $50 million.
The horror saga lit up multiplexes even though subscribers to Peacock, NBCUniversal's fledgling streaming service, could watch the film free from the comfort of their living rooms. (NBC News and the movie's distributor, Universal Pictures, are both units of NBCUniversal.)
"We should never underestimate the horror genre," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, which tracks box office data. "It's been like the Rodney Dangerfield of movie genres, but it's finally getting respect."
"Halloween Kills" failed to impress critics, however, earning a lackluster 39 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Dergarabedian said horror movies have ginned up about half a billion dollars in box office revenue since March 2020. "A Quiet Place Part II," "Candyman" and the latest chapter in the "Conjuring" franchise all gave boosts to cinema chains this year.
In recent years, horror films have generally performed well in the domestic marketplace. "Halloween Kills" capitalized on broad awareness of a movie series that began with John Carpenter's classic "Halloween" in 1978 — and it arrived just a week before Americans celebrate the holiday of the title.
Dergarabedian said the success of "Halloween Kills," which cost around $20 million to produce, upended expectations that the option to stream the movie at home would cannibalize revenues at traditional theaters.
"There's nothing like seeing horror with other people in a theater," he said.
Meanwhile, the weekend's other major new release — Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel," starring Matt Damon and Adam Driver — bombed at the North American box office, scraping together just under $5 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
The failure of "The Last Duel," a somber historical drama that deals with the fallout of a sexual assault, points to one of the key difficulties for Hollywood in this chapter in the pandemic: Older audiences who are thought to gravitate toward serious fare are largely staying away from theaters.
Dergarabedian pointed out that robust grosses for several recent hits — "Halloween Kills," "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," Marvel's "Shang-Chi" and "Free Guy" — were fueled by younger audiences, especially male teenagers.