Horror films have been a part of our psyche and a Hollywood money-spinner for almost a century, starting with “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” — both released in 1931.
Whether it’s the thrill, the chill or the ample blood spill that draws audiences to the macabre movie experience, few can deny moviegoers’ morbid fascination with fear. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that these bone-chilling behemoths have made big money once they hit the box office.
Over the past four decades, we have witnessed the terrifying yet timeless roles of Jigsaw, Jason and Freddy, mixed with a rising trend in psychological thrillers. Another box office shot of adrenaline, “Paranormal Activity 3” — the third candid-and-creepy-camera movie about a demonic force— made $54 million at the box office during its opening weekend Oct. 21-23, setting a record as the biggest fall horror debut of all time.
Click ahead to see the top 10 highest grossing horror film franchises of all time, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com and WorldwideBoxoffice.com. All data is current as of October 2011.
By Kirsten Chang
Posted 24 October 2011
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $364,396,446.50
Total worldwide gross: $203,672,393
While the first film of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” saga may have made less-than-stellar profits — little more than $30 million — the series still stands strong as a stable, sturdy franchise worthy of the top tier in horror film history. Its main antagonist, Leatherface, is among the most recognized villains in all of cinema today, and many a Halloween costume has strived to emulate his classic maniacal manifestation — complete with chainsaw, mask made of human skin and blood-soaked butcher’s apron.
Adjusted for inflation (2011): *$395,338,846.10
Total worldwide gross: *$362,716,975
“Paranormal Activity 3” broke the box-office record for the biggest fall opening on Oct. 21, 2011, with an estimated $54 million debut. The franchise, in its third series, has already proven it can run with the big boys of Hollywood horror. Revolving around a young couple who find themselves spooked by a supernatural presence in their home, the first and second films are set within documentary-style footage. It is this “found footage” that brings out a realistic, life-like depiction of horror. The first movie was initially created as an independent feature film, but it wasn’t long before Paramount Pictures scooped it right up.
*Still in theatres
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $458,826,041.70
Total worldwide gross: $213,347,603
Spanning across a period of more than 30 years, “The Amityville Horror” franchise speaks volumes about the classic, age-old haunted-house scenario. In the original 1979 film, the storyline centers on newlyweds Kathy and George Lutz, along with Kathy’s three children, who move into what they thought would be the house of their dreams but soon discover that their home is overrun by evil spirits of ancient souls murdered there long ago.
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $522,821,071.10
Total worldwide gross: $227,411,626
Damien Thorn is the Antichrist, bred by Satan and the evils of old. And throughout the series, “The Omen” continues to follow the life of Damien, the son of Satan who is actually the Antichrist. Damien tries to worm his way into his adopted Thorn family, in an attempt to gain power over the family’s business and, eventually, wreak havoc on the rest of the world as an adult.
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $698,704,593.70
Total worldwide gross: $ 371,137,526
“Halloween” gave us one of horror film history’s oldest and most popular characters — Michael Myers — a man who was sent to a sanitarium as a young boy after murdering his own sister. John Carpenter's original movie, released in 1978, has rightfully earned its place as the original slasher among horror filmdom. With a budget of about $300,000, and starring a young Jamie Lee Curtis in her first film role, the movie earned a whopping $55 million. In the late ‘90s, the series made a comeback and the remake in 2007 reeled in profits that surged past $80 million, giving it the biggest gross of all.
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $728,541,102.10
Total worldwide gross: $ 455,293,334
Robert Englund originated the role of the razor-clawed Freddy Krueger in 1984. Krueger is a creature who stalks and murders teenagers while they sleep. He did this to exact revenge on all of his victims’ parents, whom he believes all played a role in his own death. Nineteen years later, Krueger’s character further solidified his claim to fame in the 2003 box-office hit, “Freddy vs. Jason.”
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $876,562,404.20
Total worldwide gross: $465,239,523
Despite critics’ distaste for the films, “Friday the 13th” raked in plenty of heavy-duty profit. First released in 1980, the original film reeled in more than 50 times the cost of its production. The series’ biggest hit was “Freddy vs. Jason” in 2003, which pit its own antagonist, Jason Voorhees, against Freddy Krueger, the killer in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $951,057,819.30
Total worldwide gross: $605,365,245
“Scream” was a success out of the gate, hitting the $100 million mark with the original in 1996. From then on, the franchise’s profits skyrocketed — its two sequels were also blockbuster hits, giving the series the highest average gross per film on the list. The series spotlights Ghostface, a successsion of serial killers who stalk and torment their prey, invoking panic and paranoia throughout each film.
In many ways, “Scream” overhauls the slasher films of old and marks the arrival of a new strain of self-awareness in film.
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $1,014,195,828
Total worldwide gross: $873,319,880
Centering on the Jigsaw Killer, the “Saw” series put a psychological twist on the classic horror film genre by using new ways to tap into fear. Rather than kill his victims outright, Jigsaw prefers to plan out traps to pit them against one another and to test their will to live, by way of both physical and emotional torture. And even after his death, Jigsaw’s character is preserved through a series of flashbacks that keep him as fresh and as frightening as ever.
While the first “Saw” film was originally made to go directly to DVD back in 2004, it was picked up for theatrical release and instantly obtained smash-hit status after blowing away expectations at a number of theater festivals. Six years later, the "Saw" series continues to thrive as the highest grossing horror film franchise in history. And with work on "Saw VII" already underway, this powerhouse franchise is sure to stay far ahead of the pack.
Adjusted for inflation (2011): $2,255,431,170
Total worldwide gross: $661,478,540
Consisting of five horror films, “The Exorcist” franchise received both criticism and critical acclaim for bringing the notion of grotesque to a new low. Beginning with the original, which earned 10 Academy Award nominations after its released in 1973, the series’ perverse mix of spirituality, satanism, ecstasy and exorcism spelled out a blood-curdling storyline unlike any other. And a series of misfortunes — including a studio fire and actor Jack MacGowran’s death while filming — led some to believe the entire film and set were cursed.