Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Newsploitation: '80s Horror Box Office Showdown

With the new site design, we’ll be trying some new stuff to see if it catches on.  One thing I’ve always loved is checking out box office figures.  Ever since I was a kid it has always intrigued me, even if it initially stemmed from a wayward “if a movie is successful, it must be great” sentiment.  Today we’ll look at the battle of two horror box office behemoths during the celebrated summer of 1989.

In the ‘80s, there were no bigger horror franchises than FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  Although Jason and his Mama were first, Freddy was the champ at the box office.  It was a combination of factors, including FRIDAY fans waning interest in the series (especially after you get a new film less than a year after THE FINAL CHAPTER).  So as Jason sunk, Freddy rose.  The one thing their respective studios – Paramount and New Line Cinema – never did though was go up against their rival at the box office.  That is until the summer of ’89 where new sequels for each series debuted within weeks of each other.

Up first was FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN.  Paramount was in full Jason-ploitation mode at this point.  Part VII had matched the box office of part VI (approximately $19 million) and FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES was into its second season. Sadly, Paramount was so cynical and cash hungry that they slapped together the eighth entry.  They announced the sequel (under the title FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON IN NEW YORK) in February 1989 with an initial release date of August 4, 1989, putting it in theaters one week before Freddy’s already announced return.  Paramount blinked at one point and later changed the date to July 28, 1989.  Insanely, production of this started in March 1989 in Vancouver for a release date just over five months later. The JASON TAKES MANHATTAN plotline certainly got fans buzzing and the "I Love NY" poster created some (much needed) headlines as New York wasn't pleased with it and had it pulled.  Unfortunately, fans felt cheated as the film only spent a scant few minutes in that titular location. It also didn't help that debuting director Rob Hedden concocted one of the goofiest endings in Jason history. The film opened in fifth place and quickly sank like Jason with a rock chained to his neck from the box office rankings.  It grossed just $14,343,976 and would be the lowest grossing film of the series until JASON X (2001).

Amazingly, New Line Cinema found their company in the same rushed boat when it came to the fifth entry of their series, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD.  Now if you thought Jason-ploitation was bad, you hadn’t seen anything compared to Freddy-ploitation.  After the huge success of THE DREAM WARRIORS and THE DREAM MASTER, New Line would slap Freddy’s image on just about anything.  Yes, a burned child molester/killer was suddenly a market worthy commodity.  Take a gander at how Tom was dressing that summer:

Amusingly, New Line also announced their sequel in February 1989 (just a few days before Paramount) and they lined up an even shorter window for their production crew. The studio hired a gaggle of writers to come up with a script (including John Skipp and Craig Spector, William Wisher, Leslie Boehm, and David Schow) and filming started under young helmer Stephen Hopkins in April 1989.  Now FRIDAY is a film that required FX for deaths, but that is manageable in five months. ELM STREET required considerably more FX and they wanted it done in four months? That is freakin’ insane. With such a tight schedule, it is no surprise the film turned out to be a mess just four months later. As a result, the film suffered and opened in third place at the box office with $8,115,176. It went on to make $22,168,359 in the U.S., the lowest of any ELM STREET film until Wes Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE (1994).

So in the end the pursuit for the almighty dollar ended up hurting both series in the long run.  Sure, New Line could contend that Freddy beat the crap out of Jason at the box office but both series suffered.  Ironically, both horror icons wouldn’t see box office gold again until Freddy was literally beating the crap out of Jason with the long-awaited meet up FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) with New Line owning both characters.  That film would turn out to be the highest grossing entry of either series.

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