Just as there are numerous genres in the film business, so are there producers who specialize in them. So it should be no surprise that the horror movies you know and love are the product of experienced producers and production companies developing stories, putting together talent and, y’know, making movie magic, but with lots of screams and, often, a few buckets of fake blood.
Some are more subtle than that, of course, but one thing that most of them have in common is the low, sometimes miniscule, budgets, which maximize profits and make the genre one of the most lucrative in the business. When you take into account how little most of these movies cost, and how much money they make, they tend to be the pound-for-pound champion of the movie industry, figuratively speaking.
Think about it. The highest grossing franchise of all time, on a cost-gross basis, is the Paranormal Activity series. Right after the first one in that series (which made over $193 million worldwide, 12,000 percent of the film’s $15,000 budget), perhaps the most profitable movie ever made is The Blair Witch Project, which grossed over $248 million worldwide, over 4,000 percent of its $60,000 budget. Now, these are extreme examples that are akin to winning Powerball, but they don’t tend to happen in any other genre.
Just look at this year alone. The Purge cost $3 million and made almost $65 million domestically, including a record-busting $34 million opening weekend. Insidious Chapter Two cleared $75 million domestic on a $5 million budget, two years after the first film cleared $50 million on a $1.5 million budget.
Numbers like this don’t happen with dramas or romantic comedies, and they certainly don’t happen with tentpoles. It’s great that The Avengers clears $1.5 billion worldwide, but when the budget for the film is a reported $220 million — and the added millions for P&A are added in — the ratios aren’t quite the same.
These producers understand that, and while they may not work exclusively in the horror genre, they do enough work in it to make it on to this list as one of the most important making horror movies today.
Previous films: The Ring, The Butterfly Effect, Insanitrarium, Kill Theory
Projects in development: The Last Voyage of Demeter, Lockdown at Franklin High, Indelible
SSN Insight: Producer Chris Bender and producer/manager J.C. Spink have turned their management firm into one of the more successful hybrids in town, thanks to their solid judgment about what audiences enjoy. By no means exclusive to the horror genre (summer hit We’re The Millers is one of theirs, as was Monster-In-Law, which some might consider a different kind of horror movie altogether), the company has done well by finding solid remake fare (The Ring), low budget franchise possibilities (there were two straight-to-video Butterfly Effect sequels), and high concept fare (Demeter follows the tale of the 19th century ship that brought Dracula to England).
Previous films: Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, Dark Skies
Projects in development: Curve, Ouija, Sprawl, Paranormal Activity 5, The Purge 2, Horror Camp
SSN Insight: Pretty much the current heavyweight champion of the genre, company topper Jason Blum has his formula down to a science. Find an interesting take on an idea, put together a solid cast, never spend more than $5 million on a budget, make hundred of millions of dollars. It’s a sort of poetry, really, though to be fair, no one could have predicted just how enormous Paranormal Activity was going to be, or that it would spawn four sequels and a pair of spin-offs. Even so, sometimes success is a combination of being good and being lucky, and Blumhouse clearly is both.
Circle of Confusion
Previous films: S&Man, Senseless, Vanishing on Seventh Street
Projects in development: The Kitchen Sink, The Gatekeeper, Driving While Dead, Blood of the Innocent
SSN Insight: Another company that is equal parts management firm and production shingle, Circle of Confusion has dabbled in horror previously, but is developing new material with an eye toward the boutique sub-genre of comedic horror fare. The Kitchen Sink, for instance, is on Columbia’s 2014 release schedule and has one of the funniest/stupidest/awesomest log lines ever: “Aliens invade the earth as vampires, zombies and teenagers fight to the death, and they must all band together and suppress the urge to kill each other long enough to repel the invasion.” That pretty much typifies the kind of material Circle is developing, and if it doesn’t get your motor running, you really have no business here.
Dark Castle Entertainment
Previous films: Thirteen Ghosts, Gothika, House of Wax, The Reaping, Orphan, The Apparition
Projects in development: Demonologist, Wxyz, The Summoner, I Saw What You Did, Bad Ronald
SSN Insight: One of the most respected specialty shingles in the business, legendary producer Joel Silver’s horror shop — which he originated with Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis — has been around for close to 15 years and has produced more films than just about any two other shingles combined. Specializing in low-to-mid-budget fare, the company has since branched out slightly, to comic book fare (The Losers, Whiteout), action-adventure (Ninja Assassin), and straight ahead thrillers (Unknown), but hasn’t lost sight of what made it successful in the first place, as there are plenty of horror projects in the development rolls.
Del Toro Productions
Previous films: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Projects in development: Van Helsing, The Bloody Benders, Crimson Peak, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
SSN Insight: Guillermo del Toro is becoming something of a cottage industry unto himself, and his eponymous shingle reflects his own interests. The man who walked away from directing The Hobbit movies because he wanted to make Pacific Rim is a horror fanatic who has also lent his name to such genre projects as Mama, The Orphanage and Splice, none of which carried the Del Toro Production tag, but might as well have. The material del Toro and his team are developing tends to either have some name recognition (see three of the five titles listed above), or high concept fare (like Bloody Benders about a murderous family of Wild West hoteliers).
Ghost House Pictures
Previous films: The Grudge, The Boogeyman, The Messengers, 30 Days of Night, Drag Me to Hell, The Posession, Evil Dead
Projects in development: Poltergeist, The Sitter, This Man, Burst 3D, The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
SSN Insight: Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s production shingle has handled all different kinds of horror fare, sometimes with Raimi on board as director (Drag Me to Hell), sometimes just remaking Raimi’s movies (last spring’s Evil Dead reboot), sometimes neither. The duo, who clearly made their careers in the horror genre, continue to work in the genre through this company, which allows them to work on smaller fare, now that Raimi almost exclusively works in the big budget, tent pole realm.
Previous films: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher, The Unborn, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Purge
Projects in development: Ouija, The Monster Squad, The Birds, The Butcherhouse Chronicles,
SSN Insight: Mega-budget director Michael Bay’s company has established its bona fides in the horror world thanks to unerring judgment about what properties are ripe for remaking and the best ways to exploit certain name brands (witness, for instance, the long-gestating Ouija, which is finally in preproduction and scheduled to start shooting in December). Bay and his partners, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, also branch out into broader material (last spring’s Bay-directed Pain and Gain and next summer’s Ninja Turtles reboot), but the vast majority of the company’s money has been earned in the horror remake business.
Previous films: Seed of Chucky, Cry Wolf, The Return, The Strangers, The Unborn, My Soul to Take
Projects in development: Half to Death, The Strangers 2, White, Sacrilege, Faces of Death
SSN Insight: The genre specific arm of Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity empire, Kavanugh bought it from Universal four-plus years ago is like a lot of the other companies on this list in that it produces plenty of non-horror titles (like the documentary sensation Catfish), but is just as well known for making horror movies at a certain budget level. While there are some remakes on the rolls (like Faces of Death), the company spends most of its development time on original material that might possible become franchise-worthy (like The Strangers).
Previous films: Saw, Saw II-VI, Saw 3D, Dead Silence, The Tortured, Mother’s Day
Projects in development: Scanners, Wichita, The Plantation, The Body Snatcher
SSN Insight: The genre division of Evolution Entertainment, Mark Burg’s company tends to make a couple movies each year and focuses on lower budget fare and has been a part of each and every Saw movie. Of the seven movies it currently has listed as being in development, no less than four are remakes.
Previous films: The Grudge, Ring 2, Dark Water, Shutter, Quarantine, The Uninvited, The Incident
Projects in development: Hidden, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, It (Parts 1 and 2), In a Dark Place
SSN Insight: The company of the esteemed Mr. Roy Lee, who brought the J-Horror craze across the Pacific to American theaters, Vertigo built off that base and started making movies with larger budgets, without losing sight of how it started succeeding in the first place. While the company has branched out (it’s behind the upcoming Oldboy remake, starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen and directed by Spike Lee, as well as, wait for it, the long-gestating Encyclopedia Brown movie, and no, that’s not a typo), neither has it forgotten its roots. If anything, it’s proverbial eyes are getting bigger. Witness the development of the two-part It, based on the Stephen King novel.
Previous Films: The Last Exorcism Part 2
Projects in development: Psycho Killer, The Sacrament
SSN Insight: Eli Roth’s company makes this list because it’s just getting off the ground, but anything with Roth involved really should be included on this list. Come back in a year, and odds are that the company’s development list will be exponentially longer.
Sunny Field Entertainment
Previous films: None
Projects in development: Tape 4, Patrol, Dead Island, Black Out
SSN Insight: Another new company, its first film was the decidedly non-horror flick Kill Your Darlings, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and opens in theaters tomorrow, but that appears to be an anomaly, as most of the films it has in development are horror flicks, and those that aren’t are thrillers. It’s an odd mix, sure, but principals Missy Papageorge and Stefan Sonnenfeld appear to be focusing on genre films, in spite of its opening project being Darlings.
The Safran Company
Previous films: ATM, The Conjuring
Projects in development: The Atticus Institute
SSN Insight: Another on this list that is part talent management, part producer, Peter Safran’s company had a pretty monster hit this summer with The Conjuring, which is what earned it a spot here. The company’s development rolls run the gamut — comedies, dramas, a couple of spoofs — but with The Atticus Institute wrapped and awaiting a release date, its certainly got horror in the blood and will probably end up doing more of it.