One of the biggest Hollywood shockers in 2017 was the return on investment of the creepy horror film "Get Out." Produced by Jason Blum on a tight budget of $4.8 million, the Jordan Peele flick is now up to a worldwide gross of $247 million.
Jason Blum has been following the same formula for 15 years: Focus on the horror genre that is a consistently profitable niche especially with young audiences, spend $5 million or less per film, and — when it works — see these films hit in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The approach has led to a string of hits and profitable sequels including "Purge," "Insidious," "Paranormal Activity" and "Split."
It's a method that flies in the face of one of Hollywood's biggest trends right now: Sequels based on proven franchises. "Transformers," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Mummy," "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," "Justice League," "Wonder Woman," and the new "Star Wars." These are some of the big blockbusters being released this year.
The franchises have enormous production budgets but hope to make it up as audiences recognize the names and stories. Sometimes these high-risk gambles pay off (as with "Wonder Woman" or "Guardians of the Galaxy"); sometimes they don't (see the recent "Fox Alien" film or last year's "Batman v. Superman").
Blum has shown Hollywood that you can win at a different game — a game of singles and doubles, rather than trying to hit a grand slam each time.
Hollywood as a whole is hunting for recipes for more profits. Disney is ruling the roost at the box office these days. It broke the $7 billion mark at the box office last year for the first time due to its string of franchise hits. Yet studios like Sony Pictures and Paramount are regrouping with new leadership after years of financial disappointments.
Blum's success in the horror genre won't go unnoticed. It's likely to be imitated by smaller, struggling studios.
And besides horror, the Blum way will also likely bleed over to other genres — like kids' animation.
You would think that kids' animated movies would consistently cost less than live action movies. That depends. They certainly consistently cost less than the biggest franchise blockbusters, but they are still eye-poppingly expensive:
- Pixar films (owned by Disney) usually come with production budgets of $200 million.
- DreamWorks Animation (now owned by Universal) reportedly spent $145 million apiece on "Kung Fu Panda 3" and "How To Train Your Dragon 3."
- Sony Pictures' "Boss Baby" cost $125 million to make; so did "Trolls."
- "Smurfs 1" cost $115 million to make.
- "Smurfs 2" cost $105 million.
- Universal's "Sing" cost $75 million.
So some Hollywood execs cheered to hear that last weekend's "Captain Underpants" cost "only" $38 million to make and made $24 million in its first weekend (beating out Pirates in its 2nd week of release).
This wasn't by chance. Universal and DreamWorks execs definitely focused on ways to cut costs, including making the film at a studio in Canada for far less than a typical animated film.
Yet, compared to "Get Out's" production budget of less than $5 million, "Captain Underpants" still seems positively extravagant.
How would Jason Blum make a kids' animated movie closer to his typical production budget? Unquestionably, he would avoid star actor voices, as is the norm today. You won't find a "star" in any of his films. The story is the "star."