Demons, dolls, rampaging maniacs and things that go bump in the night—everyone likes a good scare, right?
With superheroes flying faster than a speeding bullet and leaping over box offices in a single bound, it's easy to forget that one of Hollywood's more lucrative genres is horror. Indeed, Halloween coincides with the time of the year that Tinseltown normally floods screens with slasher/horror fare, which in the process becomes a huge cash cow for the movie industry.
In fact, some of the most iconic movies ever made have sprung from a well of imagination filled with blood and gore, and launched a number of careers in the process. This fall, box office champs have included three horror movies: "Annabelle," "Ouija" and "Dracula Untold." Collectively, the trio have reaped more than $150 million dollars during October alone, according to Box Office Mojo.com.
The forerunners of those movies include classic horror franchises that turned Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and of course, Freddie Krueger, into household names, and went on to make much more than the cost of making them. CNBC took a look at several of the most famous (and lucrative) horror films of the last 40 years, showing why scary movies retain such a stranglehold on the public's imagination.
—By CNBC's Javier E. David
Posted 1 Nov. 2014
William Peter Blatty's spine-tingling classic still turns heads (pardon the pun) more than 40 years later, and has spawned dozens of movies that address religion and the supernatural. The Linda Blair vehicle turned projectile vomiting and chanting in Latin into cultural touchstones, and went on to earn a staggering $441 million globally—multiples more than its $12 million production budget. The Warner Bros. movie and its sequels have pulled in $630 million from screens around the world.
Michael Myers, the silent, plodding killing machine who stalked the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, has become an icon in his own right. "Halloween" solidified Jamie Lee Curtis' reputation as the go-to "Scream Queen" of the early 1980s, and was made for the relatively paltry sum of $325,000. The movie, originally produced by Compass Films before moving to MGM, Dimension and Universal, went on to earn $47 million at the box office, and spawned nine sequels (of varying degrees of success) that netted more than $308 million in total. (Universal, like CNBC, is owned by Comcast.)
A homage to old horror movie tropes that featured a trio of 1990s It Girls—Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox—quickly became a box office juggernaut. The four installments of "Scream" make the Dimension Films franchise one of the top grossing slasher series of all time, according to Box Office Mojo, having earned a staggering $331 million worldwide.
In a series of Twitter posts to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Freddie Krueger's debut, director West Craven dropped a number of previously undisclosed gems about how he have birth to one of Hollywood's most frightening serial killers. Among them: Krueger was the representation of a man who "stared at me through my window one night," Craven tweeted, and that it took 500 gallons of fake blood to make "Elm Street."
The New Line Cinemas movie put Johnny Depp and Robert Englund on Hollywood's map, and spawned a franchise that grossed more than $370 million.
Seven feature films, all released days before Halloween from 2004 to 2010, made millions of moviegoers shudder at Tobin Bell's subdued monotone, which uttered the catchphrase: "Oh yes…there will be blood." Lionsgate's "Saw" films were dark, relentlessly violent—and enormously successful: The franchise has reaped a whopping $415 million.
An Arizona secretary steals $40,000 from her boss' client, goes on the lamb–and ends up immortalized in the most chilling shower scene in movie history at the hands of homicidal mama's boy Norman Bates. The Alfred Hitchcock film featured Tinseltown legends Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh (the mother of another future scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis), was produced for less than $1 million but earned $32 million domestically. All told, Universal's four-movie "Psycho" franchise has grossed about $103 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
Leatherface is a popular Halloween costume, but back when the character made its silver screen debut, the mask made of human flesh was a symbol of terror rather than a subject of laughter. In 1974, movie watchers were shocked by the story of a family of cannibals who lured unsuspecting travelers to their deaths at a desolate farmhouse.
New Line's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was produced for less than $300,000, earned more than $30 million domestically and spawned a series of prequels, sequels and reboots that have reaped nearly $200 million.
The story of a group of teens who accidentally kill a pedestrian, dispose of the body, then get picked off one by one was a runaway hit in the summer of 1997. The Sony/Columbia film and its sequel a year later raked in about $165 million, and jump-started the movie career of television ingénue Jennifer Love Hewett.
Before "Annabelle" made dolls into a totem of supernatural possession, there was United Artists' Chucky. A foul-mouthed, smoking and drinking homicidal doll inhabited by the spirit of a serial killer, Chucky went on to slash his way through three movies that pulled in about $176 million worldwide.
The drunken, happy-go-lucky campers looking for a good time had no idea of the fate that awaited them within the doomed cabins of Camp Crystal Lake. Jason Vorhees, another silent-but-deadly slaughterer in the vein of Halloween's Myers, stalked the grounds he once occupied with his mother, using a machete and donning a hockey mask to slash, hack and impale his way through the bodies of countless hapless teenagers.
The villain of 12 different movie installments, Vorhees even ventured to outer space at one point—and eventually scared up nearly $400 million in gross receipts for parent company Paramount across three decades.