Recently, I read a great article written at Flixchatter, run by Ruth Maramis. The article outlined Ruth and Ted’s 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Hollywood–ten resolutions that they wish the movie industry would live by in 2012 (and coming years). One, in particular, grabbed my eye:
Less horror/slasher flicks and more other sub-genres please. There are so many subgenres worth exploring that we rarely see in Hollywood, such as romance thrillers, sci-fi love stories, mob movies, etc.
It grabbed my eye because, honestly, I’d like to see more horror movies in theaters, not less. Of course, I also really enjoy the horror genre, so we’ll have to take out my bias and look at this objectively. 2011 was a fine year for small budget, independent horror but was a miserable year as far as wide-release horror was concerned. The Wikipedia entry for 2011 in film lists only 15 films categorized as “horror”, and only 12 of those received a wide release in the U.S. However, that’s mostly anecdotal evidence. Wikipedia’s listings for previous years don’t include a breakdown by genre, so we really have no way of knowing if the 12 wide-release horrors is a large, small, or average number. And I am a fan of numbers. Fortunately, a site called The Numbers has a great deal more information in this vein, going all the way back to 1995. Let’s go a little deeper using clean data, and determine if Hollywood is oversaturated with horror.
First, let’s look at a chart showing the number of horror releases, by year, since 1995. It’s worth noting that this data doesn’t include whether a film got a wide release or limited release:
Based purely on the number of films in release in 2011, Ruth and Ted might be on to something. There were 28 horror films in release in 2011. That’s the third-highest total of any year since 1995, and is three and a half times larger than the low of 8 in 1996. That’s a substantial increase over a 15 year period. What does it look like in terms of overall percentage of releases? After all, not every year is 2011. The 28 horror films released in 2011 won’t mean much if there were more releases from all genres. Here are the percentage of horror releases, among all of the ten major genres, by year since 1995:
Now we’re getting somewhere. 4.1% of releases from the ten major genres were horror films in 2011. For all films from 1995 to 2011, 3.87% of all films were horror. Again, Ruth and Ted may be on to something. There was also a slight increase in 2011 from 2010. However, there also seems to be a cyclical nature to this. The percent goes up one year, then down the next. Every year since 2000, horror’s piece of the pie has alternated going up, then down, then up, then down again. If the pattern holds steady, Ruth may get her wish with fewer horror movies in 2012.
Before closing the books, let’s perform one more exercise. Is Hollywood justified in putting more or less horror films in theaters? To determine this, we’ll use market share–what percentage of the total gross is the horror genre pulling in each year? Theoretically, it should match the percentage of horror releases. As such, I’ve put both bits of data–the chart above and the total market share for the horror genre–in the same chart:
The orange line represents the total market share (percentage of total gross) earned by the horror genre. The blue line is the same from the chart just above it–percentage of horror films among all releases. I am no expert here, so perhaps a wiser commenter can correct me if I say something that’s incorrect. If everything was perfect in a perfect world, and film-goers saw films from the various genres at the rate at which they’re released, then the market share would perfectly mirror the percent of all releases from the various genres. If 4.1% of all films in 2011 were horror, then 4.1% of the market share should belong to horror. However, we can see from the chart above that it doesn’t work out that way. In fact, horror has had a higher market share in all but three years since 1995. In other words, horror is consistently selling more tickets than it should, based on its percentage of total films. Or at least, that’s how it appears to me. There are some important caveats, most importantly that correlation does not equal causation. Just because horror has outsold its percentage of total films does NOT mean that it’s a repeatable trait or skill that the horror genre possesses (although the more data we have, the more likely it’s true, and 14 out of 17 years is a heck of a track record). I bring all of this up because I think that it might shed some light as to why horror rather consistently gets 4% of the total releases. It makes money.
In summation, it appears that Ruth and Ted were right. There really are more horror films on screens today, more than almost any point since 1995. But there are also more releases. There are more films from every genre. I really have no clue what will happen with horror in 2012 but it sure seems like Ruth and Ted will see Hollywood fulfill their resolution. If everything holds true to the patterns, the number of horror releases should decrease in 2012. But it looks like the average right around 4% is here to stay as long as the genre keeps making money.