How ‘Terrifier 2,’ an Obscure, Micro-Budget Horror Film, Became This Years Unlikeliest Box Office Success

Have you heard of the movie that’s so disturbingly stomach-churning, so horrifyingly gruesome, it’s allegedly causing some audience members to vomit, faint and even need to get carried out of movie theaters?

That very question (the movie, by the way, is “Terrifier 2”) is inspiring horror fiends and skeptics to go to their local cinemas in droves to assess the hype for themselves. The ultra-gory, micro-budget slasher film has overcome relative obscurity to defy the odds and emerge as one of the unlikeliest box office successes of the season. “Terrifier 2” — and no, you don’t need to watch the original movie first — has landed in the top 10 in recent weeks on its path to generating a scary-good $7.6 million in domestic ticket sales. And it’s achieved those returns without a major movie star on the marquee and hardly any promotion.

“This is where word-of-mouth becomes more important than any paid advertisement,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “When the target audience hears ‘vomit-o-rama’ — that’s worth the price of admission.”

Its breakout success is perhaps most shocking to its backers Bloody Disgusting and Cinedigm, as well as Iconic Releasing, which is distributing the film. Since “Terrifier 2” is not rated by the Motion Picture Association, distribution executives struggled to convince theater operators to free up auditoriums in the first place. With that challenge in mind, the movie was initially intended to screen for only three nights.

“This has taken us all by surprise,” says Devon Canfield, the VP of sales and distribution at Iconic Releasing.

In its opening weekend, “Terrifier 2” grossed $825,000 from 886 cinemas. From there, something unusual happened. For virtually any movie that’s ever been released in theaters, ticket sales generally decline in subsequent weeks. Even mainstays like “Avatar” and “Top Gun: Maverick” experienced a dip after debuting on the big screen. But so far, “Terrifier 2,” which follows a horrifying killer called Art the Clown, has managed to do the opposite, all while punching up against major studio horror films like “Halloween Ends,” “Smile” and “Barbarian.”

“It has caught fire in a way you don’t see for a movie that’s not from a major studio,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst.

Though its theater count was slashed to 700 in its sophomore outing, the film earned even more than the weekend prior, bringing back $850,000 between Friday and Sunday. At that point, “Terrifier 2” had grossed $2.29 million in total.

“We dropped to 700 screens in [our second weekend], and we continued to increase our gross,” Canfield says. “That doesn’t happen when you lose locations.”

By then, buzz began to build and “Terrifier 2” generated $1.895 million while expanding to 755 locations between Friday and Sunday. And now in its fourth weekend on the big screen, ticket sales have continued to rise (by 4%) as the movie amassed $1.8 million from 1,550 screens, marking its widest footprint to date. With nearly $8 million in the bank, box office watchers predict hitting $10 million in ticket sales is within reach.

“The week-to-week increase is extraordinary rare,” says Dergarabedian. “It’s like a Sasquatch finding.”

It’s not putting up the same numbers as horror stories from major studios like “Halloween Ends” ($60 million), “Smile” ($92 million) or “Barbarian” ($40 million), but it doesn’t need to; “Terrifier 2” was crowd-funded and made for $250,000.

What’s more notable about “Terrifier 2” landing at the No. 8 spot over the weekend: It’s only playing in most theaters for one or two showtimes per day. By comparison, “Tár,” another lengthy movie with a runtime that’s close to two hours and 30 minutes, is playing at least four times per day. That film, a likely awards season contender, came in 11th place while playing in 1,087 cinemas.

“Almost every showtime is near capacity,” Canfield said. “Theaters have had to switch it to larger houses.”

Box office watchers point out there are just as many factors working against “Terrifier 2” (it’s over two hours long, and there plenty of other horror movies in theaters right now) as there are working for it (scary movies rarely miss at the box office, and the marketplace is emptier with 45.5% fewer releases this fall compared to the same period in 2019, according to Comscore).

But the triumphant ticket sales point to one truth: “Horror audiences are out there more than ever,” Bock says. “It’s hot as Hades.” 

The sequel’s box office success is also impressive because the original “Terrifier” did not originally have a theatrical run when it came out in 2016, though it briefly played in limited release in 2018. It only screened in 5 theaters and took in about $2,500.

“For this one, we knew that there was a strong following online and we wanted to give it as much chance as possible to make a theatrical splash and reward the fans,” Canfield says.

Written and directed by Damien Leone, “Terrifier 2” features a demonic clown killer who brutalizes the citizens of a small town around Halloween. Critics have been kinder to the sequel, saying it improves on the original story of Art the Clown. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman praised its “grindhouse-style gore” and described the film as a “slasher dreamscape.”

“Set mostly on Halloween night, ‘Terrifier 2’ is a distended holiday-horror film that lopes along for 2 hours and 18 minutes,” he wrote. “Yet that more or less matches up with Art the Clown’s philosophy of mayhem: More is more.”

Though the film is going to be available on digital by Oct. 31, “Terrifier 2” is still expected to impress at the box office in the coming weeks. For one, it’s exclusively streaming on Screambox, a smaller genre-centric platform powered by Bloody Disgusting, so it’s not expected to cut into ticket sales. In an era where superheroes and big-budget sequels reign supreme, Canfield believes there’s a lesson in the unexpected box office success of “Terrifier 2.”

“To movie theaters, I’d say: embrace alternative content and don’t be afraid to take risks,” Canfield says.

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