Are There Too Many Horror Films in Theaters?

Recently, I read a great article written at Flixchatter, run by Ruth Maramis. The article outlined Ruth and Ted’s 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Hollywood–ten resolutions that they wish the movie industry would live by in 2012 (and coming years). One, in particular, grabbed my eye:

Less horror/slasher flicks and more other sub-genres please. There are so many subgenres worth exploring that we rarely see in Hollywood, such as romance thrillers, sci-fi love stories, mob movies, etc.

It grabbed my eye because, honestly, I’d like to see more horror movies in theaters, not less. Of course, I also really enjoy the horror genre, so we’ll have to take out my bias and look at this objectively. 2011 was a fine year for small budget, independent horror but was a miserable year as far as wide-release horror was concerned. The Wikipedia entry for 2011 in film lists only 15 films categorized as “horror”, and only 12 of those received a wide release in the U.S. However, that’s mostly anecdotal evidence. Wikipedia’s listings for previous years don’t include a breakdown by genre, so we really have no way of knowing if the 12 wide-release horrors is a large, small, or average number. And I am a fan of numbers. Fortunately, a site called The Numbers has a great deal more information in this vein, going all the way back to 1995. Let’s go a little deeper using clean data, and determine if Hollywood is oversaturated with horror.

First, let’s look at a chart showing the number of horror releases, by year, since 1995. It’s worth noting that this data doesn’t include whether a film got a wide release or limited release:

Based purely on the number of films in release in 2011, Ruth and Ted might be on to something. There were 28 horror films in release in 2011. That’s the third-highest total of any year since 1995, and is three and a half times larger than the low of 8 in 1996. That’s a substantial increase over a 15 year period. What does it look like in terms of overall percentage of releases? After all, not every year is 2011. The 28 horror films released in 2011 won’t mean much if there were more releases from all genres. Here are the percentage of horror releases, among all of the ten major genres, by year since 1995:

Now we’re getting somewhere. 4.1% of releases from the ten major genres were horror films in 2011. For all films from 1995 to 2011, 3.87% of all films were horror. Again, Ruth and Ted may be on to something. There was also a slight increase in 2011 from 2010. However, there also seems to be a cyclical nature to this. The percent goes up one year, then down the next. Every year since 2000, horror’s piece of the pie has alternated going up, then down, then up, then down again. If the pattern holds steady, Ruth may get her wish with fewer horror movies in 2012.

Before closing the books, let’s perform one more exercise. Is Hollywood justified in putting more or less horror films in theaters? To determine this, we’ll use market share–what percentage of the total gross is the horror genre pulling in each year? Theoretically, it should match the percentage of horror releases. As such, I’ve put both bits of data–the chart above and the total market share for the horror genre–in the same chart:

The orange line represents the total market share (percentage of total gross) earned by the horror genre. The blue line is the same from the chart just above it–percentage of horror films among all releases. I am no expert here, so perhaps a wiser commenter can correct me if I say something that’s incorrect. If everything was perfect in a perfect world, and film-goers saw films from the various genres at the rate at which they’re released, then the market share would perfectly mirror the percent of all releases from the various genres. If 4.1% of all films in 2011 were horror, then 4.1% of the market share should belong to horror. However, we can see from the chart above that it doesn’t work out that way. In fact, horror has had a higher market share in all but three years since 1995. In other words, horror is consistently selling more tickets than it should, based on its percentage of total films. Or at least, that’s how it appears to me. There are some important caveats, most importantly that correlation does not equal causation. Just because horror has outsold its percentage of total films does NOT mean that it’s a repeatable trait or skill that the horror genre possesses (although the more data we have, the more likely it’s true, and 14 out of 17 years is a heck of a track record). I bring all of this up because I think that it might shed some light as to why horror rather consistently gets 4% of the total releases. It makes money.

In summation, it appears that Ruth and Ted were right. There really are more horror films on screens today, more than almost any point since 1995. But there are also more releases. There are more films from every genre. I really have no clue what will happen with horror in 2012 but it sure seems like Ruth and Ted will see Hollywood fulfill their resolution. If everything holds true to the patterns, the number of horror releases should decrease in 2012. But it looks like the average right around 4% is here to stay as long as the genre keeps making money.


Filed under Movies

20 responses to “Are There Too Many Horror Films in Theaters?

  1. Once again John you have outdone yourself with the research and presentation into this post. I very rarely see horror movies in the cinema and am not a huge fan of the genre, but the information you’ve presented did surprise me. I don’t think we need less horror movies; ideally, we need less bad horror movies.

    • That’s very true. The 12 that got a wide-release had two pretty good ones (Insidious and Paranormal Activity 3), one decent/average one (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), and then a bunch of garbage. In the meantime, stuff like Seconds Apart, Attack the Block, and The Innkeepers got little or no release.

      • The guy who met Kevin Meany

        Well-researched. I have suspected that horror movies were not getting the same bang for their buck at the box office for the last few years that they were in years earlier. The moviegoing public becomes quickly desensitized to the horror genre. It needs a game-changer every few years–Scream (the first one), Blair Witch Project (the first one), Saw (the first one), Paranormal Activity, etc. If you notice, the film makers always go back to the well on a successful horror film with a sequel and it rarely does as well. There are a few exceptions, but its not the norm.

        • I was hoping you’d chime in because you know the numbers and what they’re saying as well as anyone. Certainly a hell of a lot more than I do.

          Given the small sample sizes, it seems that the years where the market share is much higher than the % of horrors in theaters tend to have one huge, runaway hit horror. 2007 got a huge bump from I Am Legend (mediocre movie, huge box office); 1999 had Blair Witch and the big box-office Sleepy Hollow; 2009 had Paranormal Activity; 1997 had a Scream sequel, which did well at the box office.

          • The guy who met Kevin Meany

            For some reason, I never really considered I Am Legend to be a horror movie despite the fact that there were zombies in it. I remember back in 2003, buying stock in ANY horror movie on Hollywood Stock Exchange would be winner. But the last three or four years have seen reboots of formerly successful franchises (Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street), annual Saw sequels of diminishing returns, and other more forgettable horror offerings. Lately, only the Paranormal Activity franchise has shown any consistency.

  2. HAHA You have too much time on your hands!! LOL I joke

    Great article. I am with Ruth, I really do not like HORROR movies…. as you know


    • rtm

      Yay Scott, thanks for backing me up matey! 😀

      Thanks for the shout out John, and sorry that I don’t like your fave genre. I guess I just don’t have nerves of steel like you. I remember seeing a Chinese horror film as a kid that was soooo scary it darn right traumatized me, can’t even remember what it’s called but the ghost is a woman w/ long hair and pale face (well of course, a tanned looking ghost just doesn’t make sense) and there’s a scene of her eating a guy’s heart. It’s just terrifying!! I also saw Exorcist in college which believe it or not still haunts me to this day.

      So no horror for me please and really, I think the world would benefit from less devil-worshipping, satan-glorifying movies.

      • I think I’d be more frightened of a tanned ghost than a pale one.

        No worries about the difference in opinion re: horror films, Ruth. After all, if everyone had the same taste in movies, movies would really be boring and suck.

    • See! if there were MORE horror movies in theaters, I’d have LESS time on my hands.

  3. Craig

    There’s not too many horror films released, just too many bad ones.

    Good article though.

  4. Wow. Very well researched. Seeing as most of the horror films getting released interest me very little, as far as I’m concerned, there aren’t enough horror films. But I’m a big fan of horror and somewhat choosy, I just want more to pick from.

    • Horror is the one genre where I’m really not very choosy, or at least, I’m a lot less choosy than I am with just about any other genre. I think it’s because I tend to have such low expectations for it. But that’s also part of the magic, because it becomes that much more enjoyable when you find a truly good horror movie.

      Mostly, I just wish better horror films would get a shot in theaters. Instead of The Devil Inside, how about Seconds Apart, or Attack the Block, or The Innkeepers, or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, etc…

  5. Wow! I love this article. Well argumented and well documented too! Personally, I don’t like Horror movies much but I like a good one once in a while. For my tastes there are too many Horror releases but what do I know?
    Excellent post once again!

  6. Excellent research John. I definitely concur that we should see less horror flicks, so many of them are terrible and I almost never watch them, even on Netflix. But then you have the latest “The Devil Inside” movie making bank at the box office with a 7% Rotten Tomatoes score. Go figure why people fall for those…

  7. ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Disraeli

    jking nice post, Horror often puts butts in the seats, well at least the first weekend. I don’t have a problem with the quantity what I dislike is the quality. Just saw Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and that was surprisingly good.

  8. Stu

    More quality horror pictures would be nice. They could trim off the “Paranormal” and “Saw” sequels and I wouldn’t even flinch.

  9. Pingback: Which Genre Outperforms Box Office Expectations the Most? |

  10. The problem is too many outfits bother with 80s remakes. Why is that? I haven’t seen an occult horror subgenre – I hope they do churn out one.

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