As Paramount rightly famous Top Gun: Maverick crossing $601 million domestically, surpassing the first series of films by $600 million Titanic to become the biggest unadjusted gross of Paramount’s “first theatrical release”, Universal has reason to release an admittedly smaller champagne bottle. At this moment, Minions: The Rise of Gru is the largest producer of animation with approximately $225 million domestic and $430 million worldwide, while Jurassic World Dominion earned approximately $353 million domestically (beyond the unadjusted $353 million of Furious 7) and $881 million worldwide. Oh, and the Blumhouse one The black phone surpassed $100 million worldwide in just three weeks of theatrical release. The film arrives on PVOD this Friday (with Jurassic World 3), and it’s the biggest non-sequel horror movie since pre-Covid times.
Directed by Scott Derrickson and written by C. Robert Cargill, the film is not entirely original as it is based on a short story written by Joe Hill. However, I would say this is a “new for you” adaptation because for most moviegoers it is an “original”. See also: Next month’s Bullet Train, which for the most part will be “that Brad Pitt actor directed by the Deadpool 2 guy” instead of “an adaptation of Kōtarō Isaka’s novel”. Most spectators showed up last year for old not because it was a free adaptation of the graphic novel by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters Sand castle but because it was the last M. Night Shyamalan cooler. The black phone is an R-rated non-sequel with little star power based on relatively little-known source material.
Of the twelve major horror movies since February 2020 (all due respect to solid but smaller coolers like The empty man and the godless), The black telephones $100 million cume is sixth. It’s the biggest non-sequel horror movie since Leigh Whannell The invisible Man garnered rave reviews and $145 million worldwide (on a $9 million budget) in the final weeks before cinemas were shut down by Covid. In a twisted irony, the two biggest horror movies since then were big franchise titles (A Quiet Place Part II with $297 million and The conjuration: the devil made me do it with $206 million), while the least profitable prestige chiller was Spiral: from Saw’s book ($40 million). We’ll see if The black phone caught halloween kills ($131 million) and Scream ($140 million).
He exceeded Old, Candyman ($77 million), The Eternal Purge ($77 million), Escape Room: Tournament of Champions ($67 million), Don’t breathe 2 ($47 million), Spiral and the godless ($30 million). Arguably most of the horror releases of 2021 were sacrificial lambs keeping theaters alive (low budget = low risk) while the biggest tentpoles waited out Covid over the summer. Universal moved Blumhouse The black phone in this summer precisely because they knew they had a winner. The film earned approximately $65 million domestically from a $23.6 million debut film. Strong reviews credit, the Blumhouse brand, added value (for horror) associated with Ethan Hawke and Scott Derrickson, pulpy characters, and an emotionally satisfying story that, spoiler-free, ends at least 27% happier than The Eternal Purge Where Hereditary.
Beyond the ‘horror still thrives in theaters’ narrative, set to continue next week with Jordan Peele’s film Nope, there is something else to consider. Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill were supposed to write and direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness before parting ways with Marvel over “creative differences”. The black phone was their “one for me” movie. Meanwhile, Sam Raimi has been plucked from directorial hibernation for the Benedict Cumberbatch/Elizabeth Olsen sequel. The Multiverse of Madness was a gruesome, macabre hybrid of the MCU formula and Raimi’s patent horror tropes, and it grossed $950 million worldwide. The black phone is the best movie Derrickson and Cargill have ever made, and its success without a franchise may help their careers at least as much as making the MCU sequel.
It’s hard not to say it wasn’t a win/win situation. Not unlike when F. Gary Gray was not chosen to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He was reportedly among the final contenders and ended up directing the hit (and well-reviewed) NWA biopic. Straight outta Compton to the tune of $200 million worldwide on a budget of $25 million. This led to him earning a lot of money for the bar The fate of the furious in 2017 and Men in Black: International in 2019. That’s not to say one is better or worse than the other, but it’s another reminder that there’s more to life in terms of performers and filmmakers than participating in Marvel or DC superhero movies. Audiences get Doctor Strange 2 *and* The black phone is the best case scenario.