Pretend that you’re suddenly the head of a production company. All sorts of important decisions about the movies your company is going to make are now entirely up to you. What kind of strategy are you going to take? On the one hand, you could produce a few big-budget movies a year that have the chance to rake up hundreds of millions in box office totals — maybe a movie like The Avengers, which made $1.52 billion on a budget of about $220 million. But remember, if a movie like that bombs, you’re going to take a huge financial hit. You might want to take a second strategy: focus on producing lots of “low risk, high reward” movies for budgets of only a few million dollars each. In that scenario, one big hit could heavily outweigh a few failures.
If there’s a single production company that takes the philosophy of “low risk, high reward” to heart, it’s most definitely Blumhouse. They’re known for producing a bunch of films every year, often in the horror genre, with budgets entirely under $10 million (though often much lower). This year alone, they’ve already released three movies, with a fourth, The Belko Experiment, arriving this week. And so far, all of these 2017 movies have been profitable – Split (budget of $9 million) and Get Out (budget of $4.5 million) have both been huge successes. A third, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (budget of $2 million) has just barely outgrossed its cost. The beauty of their model is that if The Belko Experiment (budget $5 million) completely tanks, they can shrug it off — they’ve made plenty enough this year to make up for that. In fact, one of their “biggest” failures was 2015’s Jem and the Holograms, which made $2.3 million on a $5 million budget — a loss not worth much more than a “darn, oh well.”
Even if you don’t love the movies Blumhouse is putting out, you kind of have to respect how far they can stretch their dollar. Listed here, to really display how their model works, are some of their biggest, most notable successes, listed in order of release.
Paranormal Activity (2007) Budget: $15,000 Gross: $193.4 million
Yes, those numbers are correct. Paranormal Activity made its budget back nearly 13,000 times over. This found-footage horror was Blumhouse’s first big hit and still serves as the best proof of their model. Paranormal Activity was a signal to the moviemaking world at large that there’s a big audience for low-budget horror. And even if you’re just kind of meh on the movie itself, there’s something really admirable about a filmmaker (much credit goes to director Oren Peli) who can use such limited resources to their advantage. Paranormal Activity has now received four sequels and spinoffs, but, with each of them being produced for a few million dollars, the original is still the king (by far) in terms of pure gross to budget ratio.
Insidious (2011) Budget: $1.5 million Gross: $97 million
Okay, so after seeing what Paranormal Activity did, Insidious’s numbers don’t look quite as mind-boggling. The truth is, since the release of Paranormal Activity, the possibly emboldened Blumhouse hasn’t made anything for nearly as low as $15,000. And let’s be honest, even the most creative production company wouldn’t be able to keep stringing together hits on such a microscopic budget. Still, keep in mind that $1.5 million is an incredibly low number for a mainstream release. This movie about a boy being possessed by ghosts was a big enough hit to justify a sequel, which then went on to gross $161.9 million on a $5 million budget. And the success of that sequel was enough to justify a third in 2015, with a fourth arriving in 2018. Perhaps the biggest thing to come of this are higher profile jobs for director James Wan — he was able to show that the money made by Saw, his directorial debut, was not a fluke. Thanks in part to Insidious’s success, he was handed the reins to blockbusters like Furious 7 and next year’s Aquaman.
The Purge (2013) Budget: $3 million Gross: $89.3 million
Despite largely lackluster reviews, the admittedly creative idea of a single day each year in which all crime is allowed was enough to drive people to see The Purge. This is important to note, because it shows that, unlike the well-reviewed Paranormal Activity and Insidious, a good concept could make even a movie with a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes have the potential to be an enormous hit, spawning two sequels (with a third coming next year). You can even think of that $3 million budget as a tiny seed that would eventually grow into a franchise that has already earned almost $320 million.
Whiplash (2014) Budget: $3.3 million Gross: $49 million
Those numbers don’t look incredible when compared to Blumhouse’s biggest horror hits, but they’re certainly nothing to sneeze at. Whiplash is notable, though, for being Blumhouse’s first outright success when it comes to crafting more conventional dramas. Even today, horrors still remain their bread and butter, but the success of Whiplash was proof that their model of making low-budget movies could be applied across genres. Plus, it probably doesn’t hurt that it also resulted in the production company receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. It’s safe to say things have worked out pretty okay for director Damien Chazelle since then. At the very least, Whiplash’s success shows Blumhouse can be just as much a place for Academy Awards fare as it is a place for the scary stuff.
Get Out: (2017) Budget: $4.5 million Gross: $113.1 million (thus far)
Get Out is maybe the most talked-about movie of the year so far, and there’s nothing original we can say about it here that hasn’t already been said. But this horror-comedy mashup from first-time director Jordan Peele is nothing less than the arrival of a major new voice in filmmaking (might sound hyperbolic, but come on, the movie is that good). Few debuts are this assured and have such a unique authorial voice. And, thanks in part to Blumhouse for putting their money behind it, other production companies now know that there’s a market for smart, satirical horror. It’s the kind of movie that completely justifies the Blumhouse model. Sure, they’ve put out some stuff that’s not so good (to say the least), but if their low-risk, high-reward model results in stuff like this? Sign us up.