‘Scream’ Seeks to Attract Young Horror Fans and Boost 2022 Box Office

Still from “Scream”.

Paramount Pictures

The latest installment in the “Scream” franchise opens this weekend with a movie industry threatened by a rapid rise in coronavirus cases fueled by the more transmissible omicron variant.

The December release of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was able to defy Covid concerns to become the highest-grossing film during the pandemic, making over $1 billion and counting. But the debut of “Scream” offers a chance to break Spider-Man’s grip on the top spot at the weekend box office, which stands for four weeks.

“Scream” has some challenges. It not only faces a potentially smaller moviegoer audience, but it’s been over a decade since the franchise’s last theatrical release.

“Consumers are becoming more selective about what they think warrants this theatrical visit,” said Rich Greenfield, general partner at LightShed Ventures.

The film is the fifth installment since the original opened in theaters 26 years ago. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette reprise their roles in the franchise and bring in newcomers Melissa Barrera (“In The Heights”), Jenna Ortega (“You”) and Jack Quaid (“The Boys”). Cox described the film as an “all new launch” of the slasher franchise in an interview on “The Drew Barrymore Show” in May.

The film is expected to gross between $25 million and $30 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend, according to Comscore. The figure includes the bank holiday of Monday. Besides its legacy factor, the film has the advantage of being in a genre that appeals to younger audiences, who are more willing to head to a movie theater amid the pandemic.

During the health crisis, horror movies like ‘Candyman,’ ‘A Quiet Place: Part II,’ and ‘Halloween: Kills,’ all grossed more than $20 million in their opening weekends, according to Comscore.

“The horror genre has been one of the saviors of the movie theater during the pandemic,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

A Gallup survey found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 saw movies in theaters at more than twice the rate of other demographics. This age group has always had more active moviegoers, but the gap has widened during the pandemic.

“You have a more mature audience that still stays home to a greater extent and you have a genre that has this appeal to young people,” Dergarabedian said. “Then you have younger viewers who want to go to the movies. And the pandemic has really accentuated that disparity.”

Younger audiences continue to dominate horror movie attendance, making them a safe bet for studios to hit theaters during the pandemic. “Halloween Kills,” a sequel to Blumhouse Productions’ Halloween revamp, opened in October 2021 to nearly $50 million. Thirty-five percent of its audience was comprised of 18 to 24-year-olds, making them the largest demographic for the film, according to Comscore/Screen Engine API data.

“There are certain types of films targeting different age groups and demographics that are definitely performing well,” said Greenfield of LightShed Ventures. “So if you’re targeting young teens, young adults, like ‘Spider-Man’ or ‘Scream’ is doing this weekend, you’ll do relatively well.”

Studios also benefit from making horror movies on a lower budget. These movies usually have lower prices and don’t have to earn as much to make a profit at the box office. Last year, “Candyman” had an estimated production budget of $25 million and earned more than $27 million in sales in its first weekend. According to Variety, “Scream” had an estimated production budget of $24 million.

“You don’t have to break the bank to make a compelling, scary horror movie,” Dergarabedian said. “The Accountant’s Dream, The Bean Counter’s Dream is the horror movie.”

Paramount Pictures’ release of “Scream” this weekend may be able to overcome public hesitation over the omicron variant. However, the original Scream feature didn’t have the same built-in audience on its opening weekend.

An opening bust

The Scream horror franchise spans over two decades and includes five theatrical releases and an MTV television series.

The original “Scream” movie was directed by horror pioneer Wes Craven and released in 1996 to a disappointing opening weekend. It debuted just before Christmas and grossed around $6 million at the domestic box office. It wasn’t the opening that studio executives were expecting and they almost declared the film a flop.

“I remember saying, ‘Oh, that’s too bad, that won’t work. It’s so good,'” Cox said, in an interview with The Ringer last month.

However, he turned out to have legs. By word of mouth, moviegoers learned that the film offered a new style of horror. Those who watched the film and were familiar with previous slasher tropes got a new take on the genre.

Over the next few weeks, “Scream” grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office, eventually grossing 16 times its opening gross and receiving critical acclaim.

“It’s rare that you see a multiple of 16,” Dergarabedian said. “It’s a direct reflection of long-term playability, great buzz and cultural impact.”

After that point, the franchise grew, and a sequel was released less than a year later. However, the momentum won’t last forever.

When “Scream 4” was released in April 2011, moviegoers didn’t show up at the same pace. The film opened to $18.6 million at the domestic box office, the franchise’s second-lowest opening weekend, after the original’s lackluster release. Dergarabedian attributed his poor performance to the decade that passed between the third and fourth installments.

This time around, reboots are a growing trend. With the success of “Halloween,” released 40 years after its first episode, “Scream” hopes to attract a similar audience.

“For young viewers, seeing something like ‘Scream’ in the cinema is a blast, and what a great way to escape your day-to-day problems and then get scared in a movie theater with other people,” said Dergarabedian.

–CNBC Nate Ratner contributed to this report.