Universal and Blumhouse’s latest hit horror movie M3GAN has exceeded expectations at the January box office, which is continuing an important trend for successful horror releases. M3GAN’s campy horror-comedy premise launched numerous viral memes on social media when its first trailer dropped in October, gaining significant anticipation for the film’s wide release in January 2023. The critically-acclaimed PG-13 horror movie stars Allison Williams (Get Out) and Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House), with the former’s character launching a new high-tech doll called M3GAN, who turns out to be a terrifying and hostile menace to anyone who stands between her and her human companion, Cady.
In addition to being the first major horror release of 2023, M3GAN is one of the biggest theatrical releases since James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water on December 16, which quickly surpassed Top Gun: Maverick as the highest-grossing film of 2022. While M3GAN’s box office debut wasn’t anywhere close to that of the Avatar sequel, the horror flick was able to hold its own against Avatar: The Way of Water’s successful fourth-weekend performance. M3GAN’s $45 million global opening has greatly exceeded its $12 million budget, with the film’s record-breaking premiere continuing a highly optimistic trend for horror movies released in January.
M3GAN’s Record-Breaking Box Office Performance Explained
In its opening weekend, M3GAN has already broken several box office records, which can partially be accounted for by the movie’s viral success on TikTok and Twitter ahead of its release. Grossing over $30 million domestically, M3GAN is the biggest opening for the first weekend of January since 2018, when Blumhouse’s Insidious: The Last Key premiered to $29.3 million. M3GAN also boasts the best opening weekend for an original horror movie since Jordan Peele’s Nope in July 2022, which opened to $44.4 million at the box office. 2023’s M3GAN is also the biggest opening for a PG-13 horror movie since John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place Part II debuted at $58.3 million over 2021’s extended Memorial Day weekend.
M3GAN’s achievements are even more impressive given its lack of A-list star power and a small budget of only $12 million. Only predicted to make between $17-20 million in its opening weekend, M3GAN far surpassed box office expectations as it climbed its way to number two, falling behind Avatar: The Way of Water’s $45 million fourth weekend. The Blumhouse film is giving the 2023 box office a great start, continuing the theatrical success of the horror genre throughout 2022 with the likes of Smile, Halloween Ends, Scream, and The Black Phone. With M3GAN having little competition at the box office outside of Avatar 2 and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the killer doll movie’s success is expected to grow throughout January.
M3GAN & Scream (2022) Are Changing A Major Box Office Trend
M3GAN being a box office hit in January 2023 follows in the footsteps of the biggest opening of January 2022, Paramount’s Scream. Both films arrived during shocking box office revivals and managed to hold their own against the reigning Disney films that debuted in December. M3GAN has also surpassed Scream (2022)’s successful opening weekend of $30 million, with the latter film going on to gross $140 million at the worldwide box office. The unprecedented success of both horror movies is working to undo the reputation of January as the box office “dump month,” in which critical and commercial expectations of films are far lower than the rest of the year.
January has earned its “dump month” reputation largely due to the trend of Oscar contenders and blockbusters being released from October to December. Perhaps due to fatigue caused by so many big releases in these months, January has come to be known as the month in which audiences take a break from the theater or return to see the biggest releases of December. With the remarkable performances of Scream in January 2022 and the horror-comedy M3GAN in January 2023, this trend continues to be gradually changing, with horror being the major catalyst.
This horror trend isn’t entirely new, as January’s box office hits like 2016’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, 2017’s Split, 2018’s Insidious: The Last Key, and 2019’s Escape Room prove. But, in the new post-pandemic era in which theaters still struggle to maintain attendance year-round, horror films like Scream (2022) and M3GAN are cementing January as a surprisingly profitable month. Neither film faced significant box office competition from new premieres in their opening months, allowing Scream, and likely M3GAN, to make substantial profits until the next big releases roll around in February and March.
The January success trend is also upending the notion that September-October is around when horror films see better performances. While numbers are typically higher in the summer, horror notably defies general box office trends, with the genre also having fairly consistent successes at the box office despite the pandemic’s overall negative impact. As a new era in movie-going emerges, horror is continuing to defy logic by making “dump month” premieres as profitable as the genre’s summer and fall releases. In coming years, January may come to be known as a horror hit month after the remarkable post-pandemic box office successes of Scream and M3GAN.
January Horror Movies Have Been Disney’s Surprising Box Office Competitors
While Disney has an overwhelming hold on the box office in December, they find their biggest competition in horror movies when January comes around. Disney completely turned around the pessimism of the 2021 box office when Spider-Man: No Way Home became the first film since 2019 to hit $1 billion. Though the MCU movie continued to earn massive profits well after December, the first film to dethrone it as the number one movie at the box office was Scream (2022). Similarly, the only film to truly give Avatar: The Way of Water a run for its money since its premiere is M3GAN, which fell behind the Disney movie by a $15 million margin over the weekend of January 6.
Disney has a hold on the box office in nearly every genre but horror, which gives horror-friendly studios like Paramount and Universal major advantages during the genre’s high-profit months. Because of Scream and M3GAN, horror was able to stop Disney’s Spider-Man: No Way Home and Avatar: The Way of Water from continuing to dominate the box office at number one with no close competition for months after their December releases.
What M3GAN’s Box Office Means For The Future Of Horror Movies
M3GAN’s success at the box office not only cements January as a profitable horror month, but also gives insight into how PG-13 ratings and social media marketing campaigns contribute to stronger theatrical attendance. PG-13 horror movies have waned in recent years, though M3GAN succeeded with the expectation that it wouldn’t be as brutally gory or profanity-filled. Considering M3GAN went viral on social media among younger audiences, opening up the film to this demographic doubtlessly aided its box office performance. The PG-13-rated M3GAN thus serves as a template for how to successfully market an unconventional horror-comedy film to older and younger audiences alike, especially for months when theatrical attendance is typically low.
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