The Number One Movie in America - Friday the 13th - A New Beginning
By Sean Collier
October 27, 2020
Among a series not exactly known for its high quality, there is this consensus: “A New Beginning” is the worst “Friday the 13th” movie.
The list of reasons that particular Friday — the fifth one, if you’re keeping score — didn’t work is long and involved. It starts, however, with “The Goonies.” At the end of the fourth “Friday the 13th,” a 12-year-old named Tommy Jarvis seemingly killed Jason Voorhees and was presented as losing a bit of his own sanity in the process. When sequel time rolled around (the following year, naturally), the logical next step was to follow Jarvis as he became the focus of the series.
In Part IV, Jarvis was played by Corey Feldman. And when it came time to film “A New Beginning,” Feldman was tied up with “Goonies” duties. He appeared in a film-opening dream sequence, but the film instead flashed forward to a late-teenage Tommy Jarvis, devoid of charisma.
Losing its star — and story motivation — was only the beginning of the trouble, though. Most of the rest amounted to poor decisions. “A New Beginning” relocates the action from Camp Crystal Lake and its surrounding woods to a halfway home for troubled teens, trading a comfortable horror trope for one that has never worked particularly well. It’s the first of the series to continually introduce new, tangential characters only to kill them off in the next scene.
And — don’t worry about the spoilers, you don’t want to watch this movie anyway — it doesn’t actually feature Jason. For this film and this film only, the series decided to keep Voorhees dead, seemingly felled by Jarvis in Part IV. In a last-minute twist, the killer is revealed to be a side character named Roy pretending to be Jason. The reveal is baffling — even within the logic presented, Roy has no motivation for a murder spree — and makes for the most limp version of Jason the series has seen.
“A New Beginning” also kicked off a long, slow box-office decline that wouldn’t be corrected for more than 15 years. While Part IV is one of the higher grossing installments, earning a hair less than $33 million, “A New Beginning” dropped suddenly, pulling in $11 million less than its direct predecessor. (It did at least debut on top, earning $8 million — almost 40% of its total — in the first frame.)
Each subsequent adventure for Mr. Voorhees would drop even further, bottoming with the $13.1 million total for “Jason X.” That film, with a $14 million budget, is the only “Friday the 13th” to lose money; most had such a small budget that even the tiny grosses counted as a windfall.
As the receipts declined, the reset button was hit again and again. Jason was brought back from the dead with little explanation (a recurring theme) for the sixth film; the seventh introduced a psychic teen as a foil; the eight forgot about her and sent Jason to New York, killing him again in the conclusion; the ninth resurrected him and barely featured the hockey mask, as his essence (in the form of a black slug thing) switched from victim to victim.
And then, of course, he went to space.
The big guy finally got another hit by facing off with fellow madman Freddy Krueger, as 2003’s “Freddy vs. Jason” pulled in more than $82 million, still the series’ high-water mark. The 2009 soft reboot was a hit as well.
Since then, Jason has vanished, gone not to literal hell — that was back in Part IX — but rather to development hell, as the rights to the franchise have changed hands repeatedly and too quickly for anyone to make it to pre-production. The success of the “Halloween” revival, however, probably means that Jason will once again rise from the waters of Camp Crystal Lake.
After all, nothing else can kill Jason. Why should legal wrangling be able to do the job?
“Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1977. Please listen and subscribe!
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