By Kim Hollis
September 10, 2017
Last weekend, I wrote about the Labor Day weekend box office, and you could tell by my despondency and annoyance with the lying liars who lied about their box office numbers that I’d really had enough. Thankfully, a clown named Pennywise has come along to bring the box office back to life… and in a massive, unexpected way.
After weeks of misery (ha ha, get it?), It has steamrolled through theaters to become the #1 movie in the country. It is the biggest September opener ever. It is the biggest Fall opener ever. It is the biggest horror opener ever. And It is even the second-biggest R-rated opener ever, behind only Deadpool. To say that It is a monster is underselling It. And that’s not just because It is a creepy sewer clown who steals unsuspecting children and terrorizes an entire community. It’s because It has broken a bad box office streak and will become one of the biggest film industry stories of the year.
It got started on Thursday with a gaudy $13.5 million total from its evening sneak previews. Next came Friday, where It earned $51 million. If you remove those Thursday sneaks, that gives us a “true” Friday total of $37.5 million. Then, Saturday came in with $45.7 million, a number that showed some real strength with regard to hold – especially for a film in the horror genre with what could have been presumed to be a fanboy rush. Sunday box office was “just” $20.5 million, which means that the three-day weekend was a ridiculous $117.2 million. That’s the 29th biggest debut of all-time, and beats movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Minions, and Wonder Woman.
So how did It manage such an insane start at the box office? Let’s start with the basics. It is based on an extremely well regarded novel from the horror master Stephen King. Yes, last month’s Dark Tower was also by King and flopped huge, but there are many differences in the situations for the two films.
Let’s start with the fact that The Dark Tower has a more niche appeal. It has a long-term fanbase and a large number of people who watched the original miniseries way, way back in 1990. That series featured Tim Curry as Pennywise, and most people would probably consider it one of his iconic roles (alongside Dr. Frank-N- Furter, of course).
Another phenomenon of Summer 2017 (and all of 2017, really) is that people truly started paying attention to reviews. This wasn’t consistent 100 percent of the time, but by and large, if a highly anticipated movie debuted with a terrible Rotten Tomatoes rating, you could generally count on it to fail. You only need look back to The Dark Tower to see the proof. People who had long been awaiting this series to make it to the big screen abandoned it in droves when reviews were published.
It, on the other hand, is 87 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, and its Cinemascore is a B+ (a pretty solid rating for a horror film, though you usually want to see at least an A-). People could have faith that this scary story would be worth sitting through, and it doesn’t hurt that clowns are naturally scary. Some of the viral marketing for the film included balloons in weird places, and I still actually wonder if the creepy clown phenomenon of 2016 (where clowns were appearing across the country to frighten and alarm the populace) wasn’t an early push to get people interested in this film.