Blumhouse’s ‘The Black Phone’ shows horror and original storytelling have their place at the box office

Any apprehension Jason Blum had about the box office future has been allayed now that “The Black Phone” has surpassed $150 million at the worldwide box office.

Blum was one of many who feared that low-budget films would have no place in theaters following the pandemic theater closures. However, the film, a collaboration between his production company Blumhouse and Universal, proved to Blum and the entire industry that there was still room for low-budget feature films at the box office.

Surpassing the $150 million mark in worldwide ticket sales, ‘The Black Phone’ is the third-biggest horror film released since 2020, behind Paramount’s ‘A Quiet Place: Part 2’, which garnered $299 million, and Warner Bros. “Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” which grossed $206 million.

Blum told CNBC that “The Black Phone” has yet to be released in South Korea and is expected to add another $10 million to global ticket sales in September.

The film’s prominence in box office performance is partly due to its low budget, just $16 million, and the fact that it is an original IP.

“Before the opening, you know, I was apprehensive because in our sort of post-Covid theatrical world, it’s kind of anyone’s guess what people are ready to go back to the cinema to go see and what they’re not ready to go back and go see,” Blum said.

Many feared that audiences would gravitate towards big spectacle features or films based on franchises.

“I think it’s great,” said Abhijay Prakash, chairman of Blumhouse. “I think that’s really remarkable for us and for the industry. It’s obviously part of the theatrical revival, what’s going on. I know the big boys get all the attention, like ‘Top Gun’ and ‘ Jurassic.’ But what this movie did for what it is, it’s truly remarkable.”

Blum also said he was encouraged by the performance of “The Black Phone”.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, it’s been one of the highest-grossing films the company has ever had,” he said.

Although low and mid-budget films don’t often make headlines for their box office receipts, they contribute significantly to the entire industry, both domestically and globally.

The 2022 box office generated around $5.05 billion through Aug. 11, down 31% from 2019, according to Comscore data. It also saw around 31% fewer releases, with only 52 wide releases, films released in over 1,000 theaters, compared to 75 during the same period in 2019.

It became clear that not having as many low- and mid-budget films in theaters resulted in lower ticket sales across the board. Adding these types of movies to the slate, especially those in the horror genre, can also attract audiences that have been slower to return.

“If you talk to any of our exhibitor friends, they love the horror genre because it brings out a reliable audience that’s often younger,” Prakash said.

Blumhouse set a new standard for horror production in the 21st century, churning out quality feature films on lower budgets. The studio is probably best known for movies like “Paranormal Activity” and the Oscar-winning “Get Out,” and for its ability to take those low-budget movies and turn them into huge box office hits.

“Get Out,” for example, had a budget of around $4.5 million, minus marketing costs, and grossed over $250 million worldwide when it hit theaters in 2017.

Still to come from Blumhouse is “Halloween Ends,” which hits theaters in October and “M3GAN” in January. The studio is also developing a “Spawn” movie and one based on the popular “Five Nights at Freddy’s” game series.

“There’s a very vibrant business there and it’s not just comic book movies, not just tentpole movies, but great original stories hitting theaters,” Blum said. “And, and it’s, it’s really, really important.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Blumhouse has a first deal with Universal.

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