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The Higher the Body Count, The Worse the Horror Movie

A deep data dive shows that the more the bodies pile up, the further the Tomatometer drops for movies in horror franchises.

by | October 22, 2018 | Comments

Michael Myers earned big numbers at the box office last weekend, crushing the franchise’s previous opening-weekend record with a $77.5 million take. Keen observers, though, noted that the box office total wasn’t the only big number that David Gordon Green’s new movie was racking up. In 2018’s Halloween, Myers more than doubles the body count he accumulated in John Carpenter’s 1978 original film. We won’t spoil anything by saying how many people die at Myers’ hands, or who they are, but just know this: the blood bath he leaves behind makes the events of late-’70s Haddonfield seem quaint by comparison.

It’s an age-old sequel trend: bigger, harder, bloodier. But does it always work? The higher body count in the latest Halloween left us wondering: Does the number of kills in a horror movie affect that horror movie’s Tomatometer score, and its box office results? With the new Halloween, the answer seems to be: No. But is Green’s movie the rule – or the exception to it?

Halloween
(Photo by Ryan Green/© Universal)

To find out, we gathered a data set of 188 horror movies that are part of a horror franchise (“franchises” had to have at least two theatrical wide releases). We then counted the deaths caused by the central antagonist or protagonist in each film. We didn’t count accidental deaths, or deaths caused by animals or other non-antagonists, and we didn’t count the killer’s own death; we focused solely on kills caused by central villains like Hannibal Lecter, Freddy Krueger, Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees, and, in the case of Final Destination, Death itself.

What did we find? Horror movies featuring between 0 and 5 kills have a much higher Tomatometer rating – an almost-Fresh 56.7% – than their more kill-heavy counterparts. The same movies made more money at the box office, with an average inflated domestic total of $115 million. The worst-performing movies, both on the Tomatometer and at the box office, were those that featured more than 10 deaths. Halloween 2018 is one exception.

We also discovered that Randy Meeks was mostly right when he said, in Scream 2, that “sequels suck!”. (Ironically, that movie has a higher Tomatometer score than the original Scream). Why? The majority of the high-scoring, low-killing movies were first and second franchise installments, which, according to our data, have higher Tomatometer scores and domestic box office averages than later franchise installments. Take a look at how the Tomatometer and box office numbers fall off with each horror franchise installment.

First film in franchise:  $145 million average box office |
67% Tomatometer average
Second: $70 million | 42% Tomatometer average
Third: $68 million | 39% Tomatometer average
Fourth: $67 million | 40% Tomatometer average
Fifth: $49 million | 32% Tomatometer average
Sixth–tenth: $45 million | 27.625% Tomatometer average
Remakes (and their sequels/prequels): $52 million |
37% Tomatometer average

Now, let’s dig deeper.



Horror Movies with 11–Plus Kills

Tomatometer Average: 38.1%
Inflated Domestic Box Office Average: $56,941,241
Number of Movies: 65
Movies include: CarrieAliensArmy of Darkness (see full set)

We can’t pinpoint exactly why kill-heavy horror films make less money and have lower Tomatometer scores than their less violent peers. But, when looking through the 65 movies in this category, one clear trend emerges: 86% of them (some 56 titles) are sequels or remakes, which are traditionally prone to higher body counts, and poorer critical reception. It might explain why 78% of the movies in this group (51 titles) are Rotten, and only seven crossed the $100 million milestone domestically, adjusted for inflation (Carrie, Aliens, Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th Part III, Alien 3, Freddy vs. Jason, AVP, Prometheus).

These Rotten statistics make us appreciate the few kill-heavy originals that managed to earn Fresh status on the Tomatometer: Carrie, Piranha, An American Werewolf in London, and Sinister, and sequels/remakes such as Army of Darkness, Piranha 3-D, Final Destination 5, Dawn of the Dead, Prometheus, Aliens, Alien: Covenant, Land of the Dead, and …28 Weeks Later. While less death generally leads to Fresher results, there are some beautifully bloody exceptions to the rule.



Horror Movies with 6–10 Kills

Tomatometer Average: 41.7%
Inflated Domestic Box Office Average: $78,796,453
Number of Movies: 50
Movies include: Black ChristmasScream 2Predator (see full set)

The 41.7% Tomatometer average for movies in this group is a slight improvement from the previous category, with Fright Night, Scream 2, Black Christmas, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and Day of the Dead giving the category a Tomatometer boost. The percentage of Rotten films decreased from 80% for the previous group to 74% for the movies in this set, which features 37 Rotten titles.

Fifteen of the movies in this category cleared the $100 million milestone, with Friday the 13th, Alien, Predator, Anaconda, Jaws 2, Scream 2, Saw 2, and The Omen II bringing in lots of money. Why do the films in this category have a higher domestic box office than the 11-plus category? It helps that 54% of the movies are first or second installments, which, according to our data set, typically make more money than other franchise entries.



Horror Movies With 0–5 Kills

Tomatometer Average: 56.7%
Inflated Domestic Box Office Average: $115,418,833
Number of Movies: 73
Movies include: PsychoThe OmenThe Conjuring (see full set)

With a killer’s row of classics like The Exorcist, The Evil Dead, Jaws, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fright Night, Poltergeist, Night of the Living Dead, The Blair Witch Project, The Conjuring, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Psycho, it’s unsurprising that this group has the highest Tomatometer average, as well as the highest inflated domestic box office average. The aforementioned franchise-starting originals have an average Tomatometer score of 91.75%. There are a total of 36 Fresh films in the group, with 25 of those Fresh titles being first installments.

So why is the overall score for this group just shy of Freshness? Blame the sequels that managed to eke their way into the set. Classics like Jaws did their best to buoy the averages, but its sequels, like Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge (which we love), did their best to sink the ship. It’s not just sequels that hurt the overall averages, though: Five originals – Ouija, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Saw, The Strangers, and Prom Night – failed to achieve a Fresh Tomatometer score despite their low kill counts. It’s worth noting that all are audience faves.


Halloween is in theaters everywhere.


Full Data Sets

Horror movies featuring 11-plus kills

Carrie (1976), Piranha (1978), My Bloody Valentine (1981), The Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981) Friday the 13th: Part III (1982), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), Aliens (1986), Friday the 13th: Jason Lives (1986), Friday the 13th: The New Blood (1988), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Hellraiser 2 (1988), Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Predator 2 (1990), Alien 3 (1992), Hellraiser III, Hell on Earth (1992), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Army of Darkness (1993), Halloween – The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Alien: Resurrection (1997), An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Bride of Chucky (1998), Species 2 (1998), I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), Carrie 2 (1999), Final Destination (2000), Jason X (2002), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Freddy vs. Jason (2003), Final Destination 2 (2003), AVP – Alien Vs. Predator (2004), Seed of Chucky (2004), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Land of the Dead (2005), Black Christmas (2006), Final Destination 3 (2006), The Grudge 2 (2006), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), Halloween (2007), Prom Night (2008), The Collector (2009), Friday the 13th (2009), The Final Destination (2009), Halloween 2 (2009), My Blood Valentine 3D (2009), Saw VI (2009), Piranha 3D (2010), Saw 3D (2010), Final Destination 5 (2011), Scream 4 (2011), The Thing (2011), Prometheus (2012), The Collection (2012), Sinister (2012), Carrie (2013), The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), Sinister 2 (2015), The Purge: Election Year (2016), Alien: Covenant (2017), Rings (2017), Jigsaw (2017)


Horror movies featuring 6–10 kills

Black Christmas (1974),  Jaws 2 (1978), The Omen II (1978), Alien (1979), The Amityville Horror (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), Friday the 13th: Part Two (1980), Halloween 2 (1981), Halloween III – Season of the Witch (1982) Amityville 2: The Possession (1982), Amityville 3-D (1983), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), Day of the Dead (1985), Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 (1987), Predator (1987), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), Child’s Play 2 (1990), The Exorcist III (1990), Child’s Play 3 (1991), Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1994), Species (1995), Hellraiser – Bloodline (1996), Anaconda (1997), Scream 2 (1997), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Book of Shadows – Blair Witch 2 (2000), Scream 3 (2000), Jeepers Creepers (2001), Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003), The Amityville Horror (2004), Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004), The Grudge (2004), Saw 2 (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Omen (2006), Saw 3 (2006), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), Hannibal Rising (2007), The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007), Hostel 2 (2007), Saw 4 (2007), Saw 5 (2008), Predators (2010), Fright Night (2011), The Thing (1982), The Woman in Black (2012), Evil Dead (2013), Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), Unfriended (2015)


Horror movies featuring 0–5 kills 

Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Jaws (1975), The Omen (1976), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1979), Prom Night (1980), The Evil Dead (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Jaws 3D (1983), Psycho II (1983), Gremlins (1984), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985), Fright Night (1985), Poltergeist (1985), Manhunter (1986), Poltergeist II (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Psycho III (1986), Evil Dead 2 (1987), Hellraiser (1987), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), Child’s Play (1988), Poltergeist III (1988), Fright Night 2 (1989), A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), Gremlins 2 (1990), Night of the Living Dead (1990), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), Candyman (1992),  Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), Scream (1996), I know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Psycho (1998), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002), The Ring (2002), 28 Days Later (2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Saw (2004), The Ring 2 (2005), Hostel (2006), The Strangers (2008), Paranormal Activity (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), Insidious (2011), Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), Paranormal Activity 4 (2012), The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), Annabelle (2014), Ouija (2014), Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015), The Woman in Black: The Angel of Death (2015), The Blair Witch (2016), The Conjuring 2 (2016), Ouija 2 (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), Insidious: The Last Key (2018), The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

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