Why October’s movies broke so many box office records

October brought in a bumper crop at the box office, with new releases breaking records and raking in profits. By October 28, domestic ticket sales totaled about $785 million, a record for October box office returns by a long shot — and there’s still three days left.

The previous domestic box office record for October was in 2014, when a month led by Gone Girl brought in $758 million. October 2015, topped by The Martian, is a distant third place, with $715.3 million.

This record-breaking month is even more notable in light of news that the nationwide average ticket price has dropped slightly in recent months, from $9.38 in the year’s second quarter to $8.83 in the third quarter. (The average ticket price in the third quarter of 2017 was $8.73.) Higher returns with slightly lower ticket prices translates to more sales overall, which means even more people were turning out to the theater.

Not only is this terrific news for the movie industry, which is always struggling to keep its head above water, it’s also a helpful illustration of the different factors that can contribute to box office success in a crowded release schedule.


Halloween

Halloween was one of the major winners at the box office in October.
Universal Pictures

Several movies contributed to October’s box office success

October’s record-breaking returns were the result of several movies performing well with audiences.

  • Sony’s Venom, starring Tom Hardy and based on the popular Marvel Comics property, was the No. 1 movie all month after releasing on October 5. It came roaring out of the gate with $80 million on its opening weekend — the biggest October movie opening in history. By the end of the month, it had more than doubled that, earning $187.3 million in North America and more than $500 million worldwide.
  • A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, also made much more money than expected after opening on October 5. Starring Cooper and Lady Gaga, the musical melodrama — the third remake of a Hollywood classic — made $41.25 million on its opening weekend and delivered an “A” Cinemascore, indicating that its word of mouth would be strong. By the end of the month, it made almost $149 million in domestic ticket sales, with a global box office return of $253 million.
  • The new 11th entry in the Halloween franchise was a monster hit, making $126 million in North America in just 10 days of release. (And all that on a production budget of $10 million.) It opened strong abroad as well; globally, it’s made $172 million and is currently the No. 1 film internationally. As star Jamie Lee Curtis noted on Twitter, the film’s massive opening weekend was the biggest horror movie opening with a female lead, the biggest movie opening with a female lead over 55, the second-biggest October movie opening ever, and the biggest opening for a Halloween movie ever.
  • In a surprise showing, Suspiria — Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 dance horror cult classic — came out strong after opening on only two screens, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, on October 26. It made a whopping $89,903 per screen, the highest per-screen average this year, and its distributor Amazon is planning a big rollout in the first weekend in November in response.
  • Other films, including Hunter Killer, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, Beautiful Boy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Mid90s posted strong numbers as well.

The Markos Dance Company performs.

Suspiria posted the biggest per-screen average (on two screens total) in its opening weekend.
Amazon Studios

Many factors can lead to box office success

What this big October showing underlines is that there’s not one formula for box office success.

Venom, for instance, earned a B+ Cinemascore from its opening weekend audiences — solid, if not ecstatic. And while most critics gave it poor reviews, many also noted that the movie, though not incredibly well-made, was a lot of fun to watch; as Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos wrote in his review, it’s a “fun, twisted rom-com disguised as a bad superhero movie.” The Marvel fandom’s enthusiasm for the Venom character (who is part of the Spider-Man universe), combined with these factors — and the fact that there were no other comic movies out to compete with it — helped propel Venom to record-breaking numbers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was A Star Is Born, which certainly benefited from strong reviews off the festival circuit earlier this fall and word of mouth following its release. But the real determining factor may have been that A Star Is Born is what Hollywood calls a classic “four quadrant” movie: as a movie with both a male and a female lead, a remake of a classic Hollywood story, and a musical starring a pop superstar, it appeals to both men and women, and to people both over and under 25. Its box office has not dropped substantially from weekend to weekend, indicating that (like last year’s The Greatest Showman) it may have a long successful run in theaters leading up to awards season. And the fact that its soundtrack — equal parts bluesy folk-rock and pop — has topped the Billboard charts for three weeks indicates it will have enduring cultural cachet.

And for some movies, nostalgia is a big factor. Earlier versions of A Star Is Born, for instance, starred screen legends Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Janet Gaynor, and curiosity about how the new version would stack up against the older one likely drove some to buy tickets.

Nostalgia was also likely a factor behind the success of October’s big horror films. Halloween benefited from solid reviews, but while there have been many Halloween movies since John Carpenter’s original 1978 film, this one, starring Curtis, pays tribute to that original film — something fans of the original will love — and brings its story full circle, while being funny and entertaining to boot. Nostalgia also almost certainly powered the success of Suspiria, which is much bloodier and more disturbing than Halloween but appeals to arthouse horror fans for whom the 1977 original is a classic.

All kinds of factors can push a movie to great heights, and there’s no one formula for success. But good reviews, strong word of mouth, appeal to a diverse set of fans, and a little bit of good luck can go a long way toward making a movie a big success — and busting records, too.

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