When it comes to horror movies at the box office, Sony resurrected its track record this past weekend with the opening of Blumhouse/Stage 6 Films’ fifthquel, Insidious: The Red Door which had a $32.65M domestic opening, $64M Worldwide debut.
On the domestic front, that’s the second best horror opening for Sony after 2004’s The Grudge which debuted to $39.1M. It’s also the second best domestic debut for an Insidious movie after Chapter 2‘s $40.2M opening. Even more amazing, this 13-year-old horror franchise stole the No. 1 thunder away from Disney/Lucasfilm’s legacy sequel Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny which only did $26.5M in weekend two.
While Sony pre-pandemic had horror sleepers such as Don’t Breathe and Escape Room, the Culver City lot wasn’t reaping the riches of genre post Covid like Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. Now, Sony has posted a U.S./Canada start with the PG-13 rated Red Door that outstrips the starts of several post 2020 horror pics, some of them R-rated, including Scream ($30M), M3GAN ($30.4M), Smile ($22.6M), and Evil Dead Rise ($24.5M). For Blumhouse, Red Door is its 16th title to open at No. 1.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group originally bought North American rights on the first Insidious (which was made for a reported $900K) out of TIFF Midnight Madness back in 2010 as Deadline first reported. Despite the financial commitment at the time, the studio didn’t believe in the pic enough to handle theatrical in U.S./Canada. So they ended up making a distribution deal with Film District to release stateside. Film District handled the first two pics until that distributor was absorbed by Universal’s Focus Features. Sony had foreign (except for UK and Spain) on Insidious 2 and 3. On Insidious: The Last Key, Sony got all foreign rights, plus full ownership of the IP, too with Universal handling the title. The Last Key was huge by low budget standards at the B.O. with a $29.5M opening, $67.7M domestic, and $167M-plus global result. By Red Door, Sony realized they gotta get back in full on Insidious, so they nabbed all global rights and co-financed a majority of the pic’s $16M reported production cost.
James Wan, who directed the first two movies, pitched the idea for Red Door to Blumhouse back in 2018 to keep the franchise alive with a further string involving the Lamberts’ son, Dalton, who starred in Indisious 1, 2, and 4. The idea was to bring the entire original cast back together, including Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Simpkins, Insidious architect Leigh Whannell and Lin Shaye. Wilson was able to pull off that feat and assemble the cast, with the Aquaman actor making his directorial debut here.
Sony committed passionately to the movie: Motion Picture Group Chairman and CEO Tom Rothman brazenly selected the daredevil theatrical release date in between Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and ahead of Tom Cruise’s expected summer box office cyclone, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning on July 12. It takes cajones for a studio to follow in the wake of a big Disney movie, ala Marvel or Lucasfilm. Meanwhile, I hear Sony Co-President Josh Greenstein was confident that the studio could get the fifth installment to a big opening. However, Sony and Blumhouse’s previous track record wasn’t so lively: Fantasy Island a month before the pandemic opened to $12.3M and flamed out at $27.3M domestic, while The Craft reboot was a casualty of the pandemic and released in homes. This time around, the creative partnership between Blumhouse and Sony was significantly improved, and tighter.
However, the first cut of Red Door was looking pale, and in need of jump scares with the filmmakers looking to push the release. For Blumhouse, Insidious was a vital franchise grossing over $542M WW; it was one of their cornerstones along with Paranormal Activity, Sinister and The Purge that they built their model off of and reputation for low budget movies, whereby filmmaker and cast reap the post-theatrical moolah upsides. They couldn’t fail here with a fan-fave sequel. Rothman stood firm on the theatrical release date. When it comes to making a movie work at the box office, more than stars, it’s the release date. Insidious scribe Leigh Whannell got under the hood and worked with Wilson in Atlanta, GA to make Red Door razor-sharp scary with reshoots.
Then came the marketing under Greenstein. Every great theatrical horror film needs a gimmick to send shockwaves (i.e. those zany crazy people smiling at sporting events for Smile, the touring dancing android girls for M3GAN and the seductive girl who turns into monster on Chatroulette for 2010’s The Last Exorcism).
Sony had the ‘What’s Behind the Red Prank’. Their team created several outdoor and digital stunts by utilizing a location in Hollywood whereby they freaked out people and tourists on the street by luring them into the red door. At that point they’re met by the infamous lipstick demon. Sony enlisted the support of social media influencers Brent Rivera and Ben Azelart. The creators shot their own custom prank videos at the location in Hollywood and posted to their combined 90 million followers on TikTok and Instagram.
There was also six physical real-life red doors built across major US cities (Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago) and behind each door the team commissioned different street artists to paint a custom mural inspired by the movie. Audiences were encouraged to visit the doors (scavenger hunt style) not only to see the art but to discover a second Insidious surprise- a code word to text to and join a SMS program to receive tickets to see the movie in theaters.
Rivals believe that Red Door has the potential to scare up the best domestic haul for an Insidious movie, surpassing Chapter 2‘s high point of $83.5M.
Even if it falls short, it’s still bound to be the ‘it’ horror pic of the summer and proves once again how Blumhouse can make low budget genre work in a post-Covid world of titan tentpoles.