Box Office - Decade at a Glance: September - December 2004
By Michael Lynderey
October 14, 2009
Farther down on the ladder of success, Hilary Duff had her first disappointment with another tween outing, Raise Your Voice, which totaled a shocking $10 million (shocking because her previous movie got to $51 million). Ben Affleck had his notorious flop Surviving Christmas ($11 million), the last of his big starring roles, while the South Park guys gave us another pre-election political satire, the searing Team America: World Police ($32 million). And finally, the masterful dramedy Sideways began its run on the 22nd, breaking character actor Paul Giamatti into the mainstream, and giving career resurgences to Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen. The movie finished with $71 million, and it deserved every penny.
But enough about that. More than any other point in the decade, October 2004 was a re-aligning month for the horror genre. As previously noted, the two separate (and equally reprehensible) waves of light PG-13 ghost horror and hard-R torture horror were directly spawned by The Ring (2002) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), respectively. If those films were the parents, then 2004's combo of The Grudge and Saw were the first-generation offspring who went into the family business. And boy, did they ever have a lot of grandkids.
The exceedingly repetitive The Grudge opened on October 22nd, scoring a $39 million weekend and eventually legging it up all the way to $110 million. Although this phenomenon was hinted at in previous months, it was confirmed here - random PG-13 horror movies and thrillers could now score massive numbers simply by dishing out some crafty marketing and possessing the right MPAA rating. Clearly, The Grudge followed the blueprint that The Ring left behind to a tee - it had a similar rating, release date, and plot. Both were based on Asian horror films, and so of course they inspired a wave of Asian film-based remakes, none as successful as this one. Finally, the movie gave Sarah Michelle Gellar her biggest hit as solo leading actress, and at least for that, we should be grateful.
Next, October 29th was home to the perhaps even more outlandish box office performance of Saw. Here was a little low-budget ($1.2 million) horror movie, picked up by then-small distributor Lions Gate Films and originally scheduled for straight-to-video release. That's not a surprise - I would stand by the statement that if Saw had been made in 1994 instead of 2004, it would absolutely have gone directly to home video. But the early 2000s had featured a couple of low-budget horror indies that justified their theatrical releases, and Lions Gate themselves had some success with Eli Roth's Cabin Fever the year before. And so, Saw got its day in the sun, and made good. Big time. It opened with a stunning $18 million (back then, that sure seemed shocking) and eventually totaled at $55 million. Something about the movie - which took an old serial killer story and added crafty plot tricks, an emphasis on torture, and Lost-style non-chronological storytelling - caught on with audiences, and so Saw played out like the hit pilot episode of a series that hasn't been canceled yet. Saw and Texas Chainsaw '03 made low-budget brutality and cruelty acceptable horror film ingredients again, after many years when the genre scurried away from them. At the same time, the PG-13 wave of films repeatedly replayed the old pop-up ghost routine. These are the two opposite extremes of the horror spectrum, and I think a return to the center would be nice again. Maybe in the 2010s.