2016 hasn’t yet come to a close, but we’re edging toward 2017 in what seems like lightning speed. But when looking back at the theatrical performances of genre fare this year, it’s hard to be too disappointed. Horror, as a whole, has enjoyed a pretty strong run in 2016, and we’re going to bet you can’t guess the highest grossing horror of 2016.
We’re going to count down the 10 highest grossing pictures, domestic tallies exclusively, in order to find out what compels the American fans to fork out a $20 and stuff themselves in those cramped seats.
We’ll start at number 10 and work our way backwards.
Fair warning: Some of these movies will no doubt have you quite surprised.
10 The Shallows $55 million
The Shallows was labeled by many as the best summer “blockbuster” in 2016. While my personal opinion does not reflect those sentiments, I can easily acknowledge the fact that it is most certainly an entertaining film with some gorgeous scenery. Blake Lively does a surprisingly good job of holding the entire picture on her shoulders, and that shark… well, dammit, any shark scares the hell out of me.
This isn’t some kind of high-brow horror, and you won’t need to dedicate your every imaginative fiber to the flick, but if you kick back, beer in hand and just anticipate a bloody good joyride, you should definitely get a kick out of Jaume Collet-Serra’s man-versus-nature tale.
09 Boo! A Madea Halloween $66 million
Any flick involving Madea is going to be a laughfest, and we all know that. Just the same, Tyler Perry decided he was overdue for a genre friendly tale. And you can rest assured, it is friendly and perfectly suited for just about all ages.
The fact that we get to see this now legendary character toe the line with ghosts, ghouls, zombies and more, is nothing short of a blessing. Especially if you’ve got youngsters or you’re – quite frankly – spent on all the intense, humorless horror films to hit the market in recent years.
If you’re going to watch any Madea movie, make it this one. It makes for the finest Madea viewing I’ve encountered since the strange titular character debuted on the big screen with Madea’s Family Reunion. It certainly deserves the domestic figure of $66 million.
08 Lights Out $67 million
I’m completely torn on David F. Sandberg’s debut feature, Lights Out. It’s not a bad film, by any stretch, and when you recognize that this is Sandberg’s feature length debut, it’s hard to do anything other than congratulate the man for giving us a fair movie that didn’t flat line like so many other debut efforts have over the years.
What’s even more impressive about that $67 million dollar haul is the fact that there really isn’t much of a story here. But that too, is understandable, as Sandberg originally told this tale in short film format, where it allowed eerie visuals to keep viewers on the edge of their seats for about three minutes. There was no need for any form of backstory and there was no concern for intricate plot details.
Enter Eric Heisserer (The Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5), who did everything in his power to create a full-fledged story out of a blink-of-an-eye film. He honestly didn’t have a whole lot to work with, but he ultimately brought an interesting narrative to the production. It’s essentially an 80-minute jump scare, which will turn plenty of viewers off, but it does boast some paralyzing imagery, which likely helped to see positive word circulate through horror circles.
07 The Girl on the Train $71 million
Based on Paula Hawkins’ successful novel, The Girl on the Train isn’t an outright horror film, but it’s got some horribly tense moments, brilliantly disconcerting visuals and a story that juggles elements of crime, suspense, thriller and horror. To be blunt: It’s the greatest hash you could pick up at the finest mom and pops local eatery; there’s something here for everyone.
I’m not going to leap to call the picture scary, but I will guarantee you that it’s going to leave a knot in your belly that proves quite difficult to escape. Brilliant performances from Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett make the investment worthwhile, and the scenic shots and dismal atmosphere will likely leave your thirst for something dark sated.
06 10 Cloverfield Lane $72 million
Perhaps I’m the only one, but $72 million in domestic sales strikes me as an underwhelming figure for what I’d call one of the three best commercial releases in 2016. It’s a film anchored in dread, and the mystery on hand will have you predicting – in often wrong fashion – each twist. But each twist comes with a little surprise, and that’s what helps to separate this film (which I’d personally deem superior to the inaugural Cloverfield film) from the bulk of its contemporaries.
John Goodman turns in an Oscar worthy performance, and his support – Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. focus hard to avoid being outshined. It’s a near impossible goal when coupled with Goodman, but their efforts earn huge applause.
If you think you know what to expect from 10 Cloverfield Lane, think again. This is most certainly high-brow horror, but thank the stars above, it’s never pretentious in the least bit.
05 The Purge: Election Year $79 million
The Purge films have become the greatest goofy movies seeing release today. They feel like simple, grimy exploitation, and they’re now squeezing in enough action that it’s gradually become more difficult in considering them horror films. However, there’s still plenty of horrific shit happening in these movies, and if you’ve seen any Purge pic, you know that’s an accurate assessment.
The rate in which the story plows forward is impressive and viewers are left with little to no downtime to contemplate. That makes for a thrilling view, and whether or not the Purge franchise continues on depends on proposed scripts and big aesthetics. That formula worked this year, enabling Election Year to emerge a commercial success, and it seems likely that franchise creator, James DeMonaco won’t be too quick to abandon a series that continues to draw respectable crowds to cinemas.
04 Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children $83 million
Far more fantasy than horror, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an often dark tale that features some absolutely wicked visuals and a few very grim surprises in store for viewers. Make no mistake, this is aimed at a much younger crowd, but it also does a fine job of thrilling grown folks.
While not entirely faithful to Ransom Riggs’ smash hit novel, it is close enough to keep the youngsters glued to the TV, save for those brief moments in which deeply disconcerting sequences unravel, and then you can bet tiny palms will be stretched across their eyes.
Outside of some very questionable CGI, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an engaging film that fiddles with just enough horror to warrant a position on this list.
03 Don’t Breathe $89 million
For my money, Don’t Breathe was the strongest commercial horror film to arrive this year. The picture reunites director Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy, and yet again the two produce some profoundly disturbing but undeniably magnetic material.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the film, and that is, quite simply put, don’t attempt to rob a man because he’s blind. Stephen Lang’s character has learned to sharpen and rely on his remaining senses, and that means anyone entering his home without his consent, is in for some major, major problems.
The film concludes with a sublime twist that forces viewers to ponder who is, and who isn’t the true antagonist. That twist is a shocking reminder that Fede Alvarez and writing partner Rodo Sayagues are more than happy to break the mold and defy the unexpected. Their work could be called a gamble, but if that’s the case, the gamble paid off in a major way.
02 The Conjuring 2 $102 million
James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 seemed to leave a good number of genre followers on the fence. On one hand many felt the film was far too predictable to even edge toward frightening territory. But on the other hand, viewers saw the pic as a strong follow up and a rare successful sequel.
If you ask me, The Conjuring 2 was pretty damn good. While it differs from the first film rather dramatically, it never completely cuts the strings that connect it to its predecessor.
The film is stuffed full of subtle little scares (something Wan has mastered) along with a few blatant jolts that will have you jumping in your seat. This isn’t the greatest sequel in existence, but that impressive $102 million domestic take was no doubt rightfully earned.
01 Ghostbusters $128 million
Well now… here’s a shocker.
While Paul Feig’s female-exclusive Ghostbuster lineup sputtered and failed in the eyes of fans, morbid curiosity clearly drove more than a few to their local theater to see just how bad – or good the remake might actually be. Enough gravitated, in fact, to build a total domestic take of $128 million.
Even more interesting is the fact that, as of now, the flick has a 73% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite that solid score, and despite a solid box office take, the movie – I hate to say it – pretty much stunk. There’s no organic chemistry between these Ghostbusters, the effective humor is seemingly stuck on a respirator and all the cameos in the world couldn’t save the film.
Yet here we are, recognizing (according to boxofficemojo) the fact that Ghostbusters has earned more money for the genre than any other film this year. Given the enormous budget it has still been declared a commercial flop, but numbers don’t lie, and $128 million is a number to respect. Let’s just hope the box office figures don’t – somehow – inspire a sequel. I doubt many of us could stomach it.