We explore genre trends, including the rising popularity of horror and the influence of modern viewers and new technology.
Even the most popular horror flicks rarely get too close to the mainstream. Sure, titles like Jurassic Park and Jaws tussle with some macabre themes (like a dismembered goat, in the former’s case), but these blockbusters aren’t the best examples of the genre — at least not for fans of darker or more subversive material.
That accolade usually goes to underground treats like Luz (2018), Man Bites Dog (1992), or the literally underground The Descent (2005). Many of us horror fans take special pride in loving the films that are too scary or disturbing for the average moviegoer. We’re in a special club, and we like it that way.
Halloween and the Season of Horror
Even if horror remains somewhat outside of the mainstream, there’s no question that the genre is thriving.
The niche reportedly represents around 10% of all movies released to the public each year, with the actual number of titles increasing by 400% between 2000 and 2016. Tastes have changed over the decades, but the annual arrival of Halloween at least makes sure that something exciting (usually a remade slasher) gets placed in front of the public’s eyes this time of year.
This year’s offering is a great indicator of how hot horror is right now, as there are not one, not two, but several big genre films heading to theaters and streaming platforms in the coming weeks. That includes the return of two of the biggest horror franchises of all time, Saw and The Exorcist.
It may not be a returning franchise, but we’ve got another familiar property heading to the theaters in October.
Based on the 2014 video game series of the same name, Five Nights at Freddy’s (in theaters on October 27) is based around the fictional Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza franchise and its animatronic bear mascot. The supernatural horror movie, starring Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Piper Rubio, and Matthew Lillard, has been eight years in the making. It will follow troubled security guard Mike (Hutcherson) on his first night shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. He discovers four animatronic mascots that come alive and kill anyone still on the premises after midnight.
This love affair with horror might not be surprising to many of us. But what might shock us is seeing how much younger viewers are contributing to horror’s prominence, even more so than older fans who were around during the initial release of The Exorcist (1973) or, again, Jaws (1975).
Research from Deloitte notes that 19% of Gen X viewers count horror as their favorite genre compared to 24% of millennials and 25% of Gen Z. (Comedy, on the other hand, is important to nearly 50% of each generation.)
With the release of The Exorcist: Believer in theaters next month, expect to see more newcomers to the franchise, those who have come of age on the Blumhouse era of horror, than those old enough to have seen the original when it was first terrifying audiences in theaters decades ago.
Of course, all this hints at an evolution in the way we consume media and just how easy it is to get a decayed hand on horror of all types.
Accessibility and the Rise of the Streamer
It’s not just the world of cinema that’s benefitting from a boon in genre content. Out in the wider world of entertainment, the gaming industry — inclusive of its horror titles — is expected to grow by 13.4% each year to 2030, according to Grand View Research. The re-appearance of Silent Hill from Konami’s basement is one of the biggest (recent) developments in gaming’s spooky niche, along with the ongoing dominance of Capcom’s Resident Evil in the survival horror genre.
In a similar vein, casino operators continue to put out slots dedicated to horror, as the sector posts a potential growth rate of 17% a year to 2031 (GlobeNewswire). Ghostbusters Triple Slime and the seasonal Halloween Jack both feature on the PlayStar website alongside an expansive list of online table games, including Platinum Roulette and Mississippi Stud.
Of course, the increased demand for both of these entertainments has a lot to do with the internet and the accessibility of hardware.
Horror films, once something talked about in hushed tones, are now also available in vast numbers on streaming platforms, especially the dedicated site Shudder — as well as several new streaming platforms dedicated to genre content that are eager to capitalize on the significant engaged audience Shudder has cultivated.
This includes free streaming services like Midnight Pulp and low-cost subscription services like Screambox, not to mention the vast array of genre content that can be found on streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Tubi.
Even the larger streaming platforms with wide mainstream appeal are catering more and more to horror fans and the increasing demand for great genre content, including shows and films. In fact, in 2022, Netflix’s most popular show by far was the genre series Stranger Things, which garnered 52 billion minutes of viewtime (the next biggest show, NCIS, had 38.1 billion minutes). Other genre shows like Supernatural and Wednesday scored big, just barely missing the platform’s top ten list. When it comes to the platform’s original series, Wednesday was #3 (with Stranger Things again taking the #1 spot).
The Walking Dead and the Power of Sustainability
As far as the kind of things we’re watching, The Walking Dead serves as a useful yardstick for the nation’s love of red food coloring and rubber intestines.
It may have overrun its stay on TV by several seasons, but in October 2021, the post-apocalyptic romp was 69.7 times more in demand than any other show on air (ParrotAnalytics).
Interestingly, AMC’s zombie series was in vogue as far as content was concerned right up until the day it ended. The Wrap website claims that viewers’ demand for violent horror, i.e., slashers, jumped in 2022, a development that could spell the end of last decade’s interest in demons and the paranormal (The Conjuring, etc.).
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the Halloween franchise seems to be eying a continuation despite 2022’s terminal Halloween Ends.
Michael Myers must be getting tired by now. But one thing’s for sure: horror fans are not anywhere near tired of their beloved franchises and properties that continue to get recycled and reimagined to the delight of genre fans, old and new. If this year’s returning horror properties score big at the box office (and there’s no indication they won’t), expect to see more sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes in our near future — hopefully balanced out by a consistent flow of stellar original content like this year’s surprise hit Talk to Me.