‘Halloween Kills’ could kill at the box office even though it’s on streaming

This weekend, millions of people will head to a movie theater to watch a film about an escaped inmate wearing a washed out William Shatner mask, who terrorizes a small Illinois town with a giant butcher knife.

Or they’ll just stay home and watch it on Peacock.

Either way, killer Michael Myers returns this weekend. Wherever he does that will ultimately be up to audiences.

Universal Pictures’ “Halloween Kills” — the sequel to the 2018 “Halloween” reboot and the 12th film in the “Halloween” franchise — hits theaters and NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock this weekend. The film — which stars Jamie Lee Curtis in her fifth appearance in the franchise as she once again takes on the prolific murderer — is expected to bring in roughly $35 million to $40 million this weekend. The film got off to a solid start on Thursday night, with roughly $4.8 million.

That number is steep drop from the opening of the last “Halloween” film, which premiered to a surprising $76 million in 2018, but the reasons for the steep decline come with the usual caveats around box office reporting these days.

The coronavirus pandemic, which delayed “Halloween Kills” from its originally scheduled opening last October, is ongoing. That, plus the fact that the film is debuting on streaming as it hits theaters, could undoubtedly eat into ticket sales.

Yet, Jim Orr, the president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal, believes the film can work on the big screen, even though it’s debuting on the small screen simultaneously.

“It’s Halloween. I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare”

“People love to be scared together,” Orr told CNN Business. “The horror genre really lends itself to the communal experience that you can really only get when you’re in theaters.”

That is why haunted houses do big business when Halloween rolls around. And “Halloween Kills” is the theatrical equivalent of a haunted house: People pay to scream together in the dark as a ghostly boogeyman terrifies them.

“When you’re watching a horror film, part of the fun, part of the experience is the reaction of those around you as well,” Orr noted. “It lends itself to the film, it lends itself to the experience and makes it bigger than it otherwise would be with just yourself or your immediate family sitting on the couch.”

He added that Universal is ultimately about “finding the customer where they are” and that by putting the film on streaming, it allows “others that are not comfortable, for whatever reason, in being in theaters” to watch it on Peacock as an option.

Another thing that “Halloween Kills” has working in its favor in theaters this weekend is that horror is one of the box office’s most reliable genres.

This year has been no different.

“You can’t kill the boogeyman”

For decades, the genre has frightened people into going to the movies, and even as streaming has grown in power, horror hasn’t slowed down in the ticket sales department.

Films like “A Quiet Place Part II,” “Candyman” and “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” — which like “Halloween Kills” was released in theaters and streaming at the same time this summer — all have done relatively well at the box office this year.

“Halloween” is one of the most popular franchises in horror history, so it could easily follow the same track this weekend, or even exceed expectations. That said, bad reviews (it has a 45% score on Rotten Tomatoes) could scare audiences away. Also, sporadic moviegoing has made predicting the box office week to week more difficult than killing Michael Myers.

Even if consumers choose to stay home and watch the film on Peacock, that’s a win for NBCUniversal too (but not so much for theaters).

This is because Peacock is a somewhat new service, having debuted in July 2020, and it mostly lags behind the Netflix’s and Disney+’s of the world, which have 209 million and 116 million subscribers, respectively. Peacock has 54 million sign-ups and 20 million monthly active accounts.

Offering a film from the iconic “Halloween” franchise” could give a boost to Peacock’s overall user base and give some much-needed attention to the nascent service.

No matter what happens at the box office or on Peacock this weekend, “Halloween” will live on. In fact, Universal has already announced the next film in the series, “Halloween Ends,” which is due out in theaters next year.

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