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Box Office: Why ‘Halloween’ Succeeded Where ‘Alien,’ ‘Predator’ And ‘Terminator’ Failed

(Source: forbes.com)

There’s going to be a lot of  Halloween-related “What does this mean?” posts in the next week or two, and not just from me. For the moment, I’d like to focus on one specific aspect of the film’s blow out victory. Namely, the trivia nugget, which was passed around quite a bit, declaring Halloween to be the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie starring a female actor over 55 years old. And yes, that is correct; Jamie Lee Curtis turns 60 later this year. The success or failure of these nostalgia-driven revamps is partially about appealing to fans of the original heroes and monsters.

With $80.9 million in four days of release (it earned $4.7m on Monday), Halloween is now the fourth-biggest Halloween movie when adjusted for inflation. Its four-day total is way above the raw $58m lifetime gross of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake in 2007 and the $55m gross of Halloween H20 in 1998. In terms of inflation/tickets-sold, it is right between Halloween II ($26m in 1981/$84m adjusted) and H20 ($107m adjusted) and Halloween ($184m adjusted). In North America, the movie is already more successful than The Predator, Terminator Genysis and Alien Covenant. That this successful straight-up sequel featured not just the return of the iconic villain but also the iconic hero, played by the original actress, shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Halloween didn’t just make $76.2 million domestic and $91m worldwide in three days because it was another Halloween movie, or even that it was another Halloween movie from Blumhouse and boasting unconventional filmmakers (David Gordon Green in the director’s chair and Danny McBride as a co-writer). A big part of the film’s success was that it connected directly back to the original John Carpenter/Debra Hill original while bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis in her star-making role. Yes, they played that card in 1998 with Halloween: H20, but the forces of pop culture nostalgia are far more potent than they were in 1998.

By bringing back an AARP-eligible leading lady and making her an ass-kicking grandma, they made the sequel stand out from the horror pack even for those who didn’t care much about the Halloween brand. The core narrative, “escaped mental patient goes back to his hometown 40 years after his initial killing spree and is challenged by his surviving victim,” is as primal a horror tale as you can imagine. It’s almost as primal as, for example, a bunch of misfits coming together in their small town to challenge a supernatural monster who disguises itself as a clown and eats children. It shows a vital understanding of the property’s popularity.

For longtime fans of the Halloween franchise, Laurie Strode is as essential as Michael Myers. Strode, played by a teenage Curtis (daughter of Janet Leigh) in 1978, was an everywoman, a slice-of-life teenage girl attacked on Halloween night by a glorified boogeyman and who found just enough strength to survive the ordeal. We like to talk about how slasher movies can be “empowering” horror fantasies in terms of how they show at least one young woman fighting back and reclaiming her strength, yet horror sequels often treat the victims as borderline interchangeable. Michael without Laurie is like… uh… the Joker without Batman.

It’s no coincidence that the five biggest Halloween movies in terms of tickets sold in North America (Halloween 1978, Halloween 2018, Halloween 2007, Halloween H20 and Halloween II) feature Strode in the key survivor role. It’s not just a hero/villain relationship. It’s understanding that Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow works best when bouncing off Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s respective heroes Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. It’s in understanding that just as many folks, especially in North America, are fans of the Terminator movies because of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as they are because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800. Ditto the Alien series and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.

When folks speak fondly of Aliens, they talk about Ripley’s superheroic moments, especially the climactic (and oft-quoted) “Get away from her you b***h” hero beat. Ditto Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Linda Hamilton’s PTSD-stricken, paranoid mother figure. To argue that the appeal of the Halloween, Terminator, Predator (which was initially a Schwarzenegger star vehicle) and Alien movies (especially ones called Alien) is entirely rooted in concept and villain (killer robots, face-sucking aliens, outer space big game hunters) is to miss part of the lesson. If the Tim Miller-directed and James Cameron-produced Terminator reboot breaks big next year, it’ll be mostly due to Sarah Connor’s return engagement.

For fans, especially many (but not all) female genre fans, part of the appeal of the Halloween, Terminator and Alien franchises are about the strong female leads at their center. By strong, I don’t just mean being talking tough and swaggering into battle, but rather well written, well acted and allowed to grow, change and have the same kind of complexity afforded to most male action heroes. Whether or not I’m a fan of the new Halloween or whether I agree with its artistic choices (spoiler: Halloween H20 > H40), Blumhouse and Universal’s marketing made the most of their trump card, selling the new Halloween as a “hunted becomes the hunter” role reversal.

They sold a Halloween that didn’t just feature the return of Michael Myers, or even John Carpenter in an executive producer (and composer) role. They sold the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, and they promised via pre-release marketing that she was no longer a victim and was fighting back to protect her daughter and granddaughter. Halloween H20 made the same pitch 20 years ago, but modern marketing counts on selective amnesia. Remember when Sony sold Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man as an entirely different movie from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man because it was romantic and offered a complex villain who thought of Peter Parker as a surrogate son?

The success of Halloween is good news for Paramount/Viacom Inc.’s upcoming Terminator reboot (which brings back Schwarzenegger and Hamilton) and any theoretical Alien sequel that stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. When going forward with a franchise revamp, a sequel with the lead character back in the saddle is better than one that merely depends on the IP. That’s not a magic bullet. Jurassic World featured only B.D. Wong in a glorified cameo, and Independence Day: Resurgence brought back most of the main cast (save for Will Smith) but still crashed and burned. But better to revive Fast & Furious than reboot The Mummy.

Universal/Comcast Corp. was able to successfully sell the film as a metaphor for the patriarchal struggles exemplified by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement. The media was all too happy to play along because it would give a greater heft and deeper meaning to an otherwise conventional slasher sequel. But that’s for another day. Halloween took the Laurie Strode character and turned her into a righteously violent and protective mother figure, now fit to stand alongside the Ripley of Aliens and the Sarah Connor of Terminator 2. While a hero is only as good as his or her villain, the makers behind Halloween remembered that the opposite is also just as true.

More Info: forbes.com

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