Franchise horror: The 80s

Franchises have been a big part of the Horror genre. Right back to the Universal films of the 1930s, studios have looked to build a series of films, each containing familiar characters in ever more outre situations. This tendency towards franchising horror films probably reached it’s apogee in the 1980s, that decade of decadent yuppie excess and economic ups and downs.

These franchises entered the public consciousness and passed over from being meer filmic gravy trains to being bona fide pop culture phenomena. Heading this list were 3 iconic characters/franchises which re-defined horror for an entire generation: Jason (Friday the 13th), freddy (A Nightmare on Elm St), and Michael Myers (Halloween, although this franchise technically started in the 70s).

So, just how big were these franchises then? Well, lets look at the box office totals (US only, the series unadjusted box office is given first, it’s adjusted box office is in parentheses):

jason

Friday the 13th (12 films, 1980-2009) $380,637,525 ($753,023,200)

freddy

A Nightmare on Elm Street (9 films, 1984-2010) $370,495,086 ($639,526,600)

michael-myers

Halloween (10 films, 1978-2009) $308,522,645 ($607,386,400)

So that is 3 half a billion dollar franchises within the horror genre. Contemporary studios would give their right arms for that kind of box office these days. And bear in mind, these films were pumped out at a rate of knots for what were even then exceptionally low budgets (Elm St was clearly the best funded of the series, but the returns were better on a cost to tickets basis for Friday the 13th). Hell, Halloween even survived an entry that had no connection to the other films in the series.

 

Sure, each film followed some pretty obvious tropes as the series went along (nubile teens? Check. Illicit sex and/or drugs? Check. Unbelieving/uncaring adults? Check. “Final Girl”? Check.), but that predictability was their advantage. These franchise horrors became perfect “date movies” for many teenagers, secure in the knowledge that their date would pull them tight during the scare scenes whilst they looked all brave, barely even flinching. And fans knew that about every 10 or so minutes, the best effects guys of the day would get a chance to show off the lastest state of the art in their field.

Modern horror franchises (Saw apart) seem to have lost this knack for pulling in repeat audiences, often becoming direct to DVD after just 1 or 2 installments. Gods, how I long for those gory, glory days….

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