The horror genre has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs at the box office over the past several decades. There have been major highs, such as the Universal monster films in the ’50s and ’60s. The Exorcist in 1973 then showed the world that a terrifying horror film can dominate the box office, a film still considered as one of the highest-selling films of all time when adjusted for inflation. The ’80s gave us numerous low-budget slashers, many which performed admirably but many more that saturated the industry and led people astray. The ’90s was a decade of inconsistency for horror. Although many films brought in big revenues, the critical responses on average suffered greatly. The decade may have been saved by a few films, such as the Scream franchise, The Blair Witch Project, and The Sixth Sense, the highest-selling unadjusted horror film of all time.
The new millennium didn’t bring in a great many new ideas at first. Remakes and rehashes dominated the first decade, but the genre grew and expanded. Remakes of foreign films, such as The Ring and The Grudge, did very well. What Lies Beneath and The Others showed that fans were still willing to pay to see quality supernatural horror films. All these successes led us to our current state. Really, we’re at an incredible stage in horror. We have seen both massive blockbusters in the last 10 years and creative shifts in what is considered horror. The genre has exploded at the box office, particularly on the worldwide stage. Perhaps more people are realizing that the big screen and high-quality sound of a theater really lends itself well to horror. At least more so than many other genres. With fans unable to replicate this atmosphere at home, many are choosing to go be scared out of their skin at the theaters. So, in celebration of the genre’s past decade, we decided to look at the best of the best of recent horror films. Here are the Top 20 Highest Grossing Horror Films Last Decade.
20. The Happening – $163 Million Worldwide
The Happening is a film that is ridiculed. But, aside from being one of the highest-grossing films, it is also one of the more misunderstood horror films made in the last decade. M. Night Shyamalan is a director who wears his influences on his sleeve. In the past, he had made Alfred Hitchcock -style horror with heavy-handed seriousness. This appears to be what people expected The Happening to be. When it wasn’t, the audience was incapable of adapting their expectations. This is a movie that is meant to recall the paranoia B horror films of the ’50s and ’60s. The camp and the performances were intended to fit within this world. For the same reason that many of those films are laughed at today, this one was laughed at. Although it is self-aware, it wasn’t enough to convince audiences. Yet, while it missed its mark on the critics, it performed well in theaters, more than tripling its $48-million production budget.
19. Cloverfield – $170 Million Worldwide
Cloverfield benefited from what was one of the most creative and captivating marketing campaigns in the history of film. The mystery and the intrigue of the marketing, the secrecy of the monster, and the online discussion all combined to make the film highly anticipated. It helped that this 2008 film also combined the hot found-footage genre with a monster horror film, something that worked very well for it. With a budget of only $25 million, the $170-million return made those people who worked on Cloverfield very rich. This movie took a modern approach and applied it to an age-old formula that worked beautifully.
18. Paranormal Activity 2 – $177 Million Worldwide
After the huge success of Paranormal Activity, people were chomping at the bit to go back to that world. You often see in box office numbers that the sequels to big movies do better than the originals. This is because all of those people who missed the first one in theaters but saw it on DVD at home. They end up going to the theater for the second one now that they’re all caught up. Well, as you’ll find out soon, Paranormal Activity 2 did not do as well as the first, but it was very close. The second film also was not as good as the first, basically just retracing the steps it took in the original. Still, it was scary enough to be enjoyable in theaters and the $177 Million it earned worldwide is a testament to that.
17. The Final Destination – $186 Million Worldwide
The Final Destination is confusingly named. This is not the first entry in the franchise. The first was called Final Destination. This one is the fourth entry. This film is easily the worst in the series. It also performed rather poorly at the domestic box office, but with worldwide sales, it smashed. Most of the sales likely had to do with the fact that it was 3D, and in 2009, 3D was apparently awesome. In the worldwide box offices, the movie more than doubled its domestic numbers, so some places loved the crap out of it, including the UK. But, when it comes to 3D movies, box office numbers are inflated, so who knows how well this film really did?
16. Paranormal Activity – $193 Million Worldwide
It’s still hard to believe that the first Paranormal Activity was shot on a budget of 15,000 dollars. It made just under $200 million. This is another movie that benefited from a brilliant marketing campaign. They first recognized the power of the film during the test screenings. When they noticed people walking out of the film, they thought it was because these people hated it. It turned out, they were scared and leaving because it was too much for them. The filmmakers and marketers then showed the movie to different college towns across the US, filming the audience’s reactions. These reactions were then used in the trailers to show how scary it was, a similar tactic that The Exorcist used back in the ’70s. But this is where the real magic started. The filmmakers then had people go online to “demand” the film to an area near them. Really, this demand did nothing except generate online discussion and interest. If you demanded it, you were more invested in it and more likely to see it in theaters. The strategy worked and the film made a boatload of money.
15. Paranormal Activity 3 – $207 Million Worldwide
Paranormal Activity 3 was the best-selling of the Paranormal Activity franchise. Domestically, it performed about as well as the first two entries, but this one did more on the world stage. Paranormal 4 just missed out on making this list, coming just at about $142 million worldwide. Like Paranormal Activity 2, the third entry only served to weaken the franchise. It also enhanced the feeling that the studios were milking this concept for every penny it was worth. Still, $207 million shows that the fans didn’t really mind and liked it enough to go see it.
14. Resident Evil: Retribution – $240 Million Worldwide
Resident Evil: Retribution is the fifth entry in the Resident Evil series, a franchise that has made money hand over fist. This movie was not good, but it was a very high-quality 3D film, which definitely helped enhance its audience numbers and inflate the box office numbers. Truthfully, the only reason that this film or any of the other Resident Evil films made this list is because of the Asian markets. Domestically, the movie only made $42 million. It made almost $200 million worldwide, with most of that coming from places where people take their video games seriously, and their video game adaptations even more seriously.
13. Get Out — $253 Million Worldwide
Although we were surprised to see Get Out make as much money as it did, we are happy about it. This was easily one of the best films of the year and should get some serious consideration for Best Original Screenplay during the award season, which is remarkable for a horror film. Typically, critics don’t have a major influence on what films people see in theaters. In this case, however, the fact that so many critics were gushing over a horror film must have peaked the people’s interest at least a little. The film was new and refreshing, and it should do nothing but excite horror fans and inspire horror filmmakers.
12. Annabelle — $256 Million Worldwide
Serving as a prequel to the hugely-popular horror film, The Conjuring, Annabelle crushed it at the theaters, bringing in more than 250 million dollars on a budget of about $6.4 million. In the domestic markets, the film actually underperformed, but it shined worldwide. Compared to The Conjuring franchise, Annabelle is considerably weaker. The different directors might have something to do with that. Still, creepy, possessed dolls are always a popular concept, and this one has the quality scares to make the price of admission worthwhile.
11. Split – $278 Million Worldwide
Many people saw Split as M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form. Incredibly, this movie had a budget of only about $9 million, which means that it made a lot of cash. Although the movie is not a traditional horror film, it does have its scares and should be considered for inclusion on this list. In terms of quality, this is one of Shyamalan’s strongest films. It is much more conventional than his other movies. But, considering the backlash he got from film fans for some of his other more original efforts, it was probably a smart move to fall into line.
10. Shutter Island — $294 Million Worldwide
Although this movie might be considered more like a psychological thriller than a horror film, the elements of horror are all still very much there. The mystery in the film may muddle that horror connection a bit, but there is a heavy Alfred Hitchcock influence here and the film is creepy, so we’re counting it for this list. Any movie with Leonardo DiCaprio is going to make money, so we’re not surprised it did so well. This is actually a much better film than people give it credit for, and we always urge readers to revisit it if they have the chance.
9. Annabelle: Creation — $298 Million Worldwide
Annabelle: Creation is one of the films that prove to us just how popular the horror genre is right now (we honestly don’t think it’s ever going away). Aided by gigantic worldwide box office numbers, this sequel to the aforementioned Annabelle and another entry in The Conjuring franchise is incredibly not even the highest-selling horror film of the current year (2017). Coming in at just under $300 million, that is astounding. This is the second feature film directed by David Sandberg, the guy who created Lights Out, a film that just missed making this list by a small mark.
8. Resident Evil: Afterlife — $300 Million Worldwide
Once again, the Resident Evil franchise benefits from the allure of 3D and the international box offices (so we know you’re not surprised to see it making another appearance on this list of the highest grossing horror films of the last decade). With Afterlife, the fourth installment in the franchise, the high ticket prices of the 3D really inflated the numbers in the domestic box office results, but that only accounted for about $60 million of the 300 million dollars. The rest of the money came, primarily, from the Asian markets. They love them some Milla Jovovich. And we don’t blame them…
7. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – $312 Million Worldwide
We know, we know. Resident Evil again. In addition to being the last of the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is also, thankfully, the final Resident Evil film on this list (you are welcome). By this point, it should surprise no one that the movie bombed in North America, earning only about 26 million dollars. In the foreign markets, like the other films before it, this film crushed it out of the park. It brought in more than $285 million there. That’s just stupid money. This was not a good movie. Why Mainland China loved it so much is actually beyond us.
6. The Conjuring – $318 Million Worldwide
The Conjuring was a film that was on the verge of being made for many, many years. We’re glad that it didn’t get off the ground earlier because it truly needed James Wan, and James Wan needed it. After his success with Insidious, Wan took on The Conjuring, and it was a smash hit. It performed incredibly well at both domestic and worldwide box offices. As far as traditional horror goes, it became one of the highest-selling horror films of all time. It brought ghost stories and hauntings back into the fold and helped give the genre a much-needed resurgence. Thanks James Wan!
5. The Conjuring 2 – $320 Million Worldwide
There was no surprise that The Conjuring 2 would do so well at the box office. After the first entry did so well, making money was all but a guarantee. Annabelle kind of soured the critics, but it also brought in a crazy amount of people into the theaters. We expected that The Conjuring 2, like most sequels, especially in the horror genre (as we’ve seen on this list), would be categorically worse. It wasn’t. Well, it was worse, a little, but not really. It was still a really good film. A very scary and very good horror movie. This is definitely not one for scaredy cats.
4. Black Swan – $329 Million Worldwide
Horror might not be the genre you think of when you think of Black Swan, but it does cross that border a little. You put Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Darren Aronofsky together for a film and it’s going to make some money. But, this movie was also very good. The fact that Portman ended up winning Best Actress for the film at the Academy Awards certainly helped cement it as one of the best horror films in recent memory, and the box office numbers of more than 300 million dollars are very clear proof of that.
3. World War Z – $540 Million Worldwide
More action than horror, we debated whether or not to even include World War Z on this list. Since it would be a stretch to classify this as a scary film, we didn’t really want to, but a $540-million zombie movie is pretty hard to ignore, wouldn’t you agree? Brad Pitt as the star and the fact that the marketing for this movie made it look really exciting helped World War Z along. Overall, this was a quality movie that deserved to be the box office smash hit that it was. It was big and bold and fast—all the things that blockbusters demand.
2. I Am Legend – $585 Million Worldwide
Just like the last entry (and even the one before that), I Am Legend is not your typical scary or gory horror film, but zombies are deeply ingrained in the horror genre and Darkseekers are basically zombies. Right? Besides, 585 million dollars is certainly a lot of money, so it can’t hurt acknowledging the achievements of this interesting film. In the past, we’ve been critical and hard on Will Smith and I Am Legend, particularly for giving us a weak Hollywood ending. Nevertheless, overall this is a pretty strong movie.
1. It – $606 Million Worldwide
It was just the other day that It, the adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel, became the new king of R-rated movies (unadjusted for inflation). Although it’s still working on earning more (probably a lot more with Halloween being right around the corner), It is also the second-highest selling horror movie of all time, only behind The Sixth Sense (again, unadjusted for inflation). The new film is fun, current, scary, and classic all rolled into one. It was bound to be successful, there’s no doubt about that, but the quality of the film will also ensure that it is also a memorable movie.
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