How Have Horror Films Done on Streaming and in Theaters in 2023?

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It’s spooky season here in the America. Children dress up, families go to pumpkin patches (and go to more pumpkin patches, and Boo at the Zoo, and then more pumpkin patches, and events at the park and library, then more pumpkin patches, then a Halloween parade at school and, finally, maybe some trick or treating), while young people go out to party. 

And on TV many of us watch scary movies. 

The streamers know this, so they create specialized Halloween landing pages to surface horror films and horror-themed TV series. Since I spent a ton of time this week on my deep dive calculating how many shows would have earned the WGA’s new “success-based residual”, I made this holiday-themed “Visual of the Week” on horror films to tide you over while you wait for the streaming ratings report. (Coming out on Monday.) 

In general, we tend to overrate the appeal of horror films. Don’t get me wrong: they can do very well at the box office. But the caveat is they do well for how low their budgets are. That’s what made Universal’s $400 million Exorcist deal such a big over pay. 

Again, that’s a pretty good return on a few of those films, but only one film actually passed $200 million in global box office, which isn’t great.And that’s out of 44 horror films released this year, according to The-Numbers.

So far, on streaming, horror films don’t really move the needle either. At best, they sort of do fine. 

Really scary horror films just have a more limited audience, since true horror doesn’t appeal to people of all ages like other film genres, like superhero, animated and action films. To prove that, just look at these “horror-adjacent” films. (Most of these were either family, comedy or action first, and horror second.)

Broader horror films do much, much, much better than traditional, straight-up horror films. 

To be clear, this isn’t an argument not to make horror films, but it is an argument to make them for the right, lower price…and to release them in theaters! There also seems to be a “theatrical effect” with horror films, as films in their “Pay 1” window that come to streaming generally outperform streaming-only films:

Updates to My Thoughts on Streamer’s Halloween Landing Pages

Last year, I did a deep dive into Halloween on streaming (“Who Won The Streaming Battle for Halloween? Ranking Every Streamer’s Halloween Landing Pages…And What They Say About Each Company’s Strengths and Weaknesses”) looking at who has the best library titles, the best Halloween landing pages, and more. I didn’t update the data analysis this year, but I did want to revisit each streamer’s Halloween landing pages, to see who got better, who got worse, and who remained the same.

To be fair, I can’t really quantify how effective this is. Paramount+ and Peacock have excellent Halloween landing pages, but they’re two of the smallest streamers out there, so is this a competitive advantage? Not really? Still, it matters to execute things like UX well. It shows which streamers are making a good effort to actually curate content for their users in a smart, user-friendly way.

Here’s my thoughts checking out each streamer’s landing pages this year:

  • In terms of selling popular library titles and popular original series…Peacock, Max, Paramount+ and Disney+ do this really well, putting their most popular content first, right where you want it. Hulu does not, mostly leaning on their unpopular original titles and, worse, repeating the same tiles/titles over and over again at the top of their page. The big improvement, compared to last year, is Netflix. Their “Enter If You Dare” page is much better organized this year and features a smart blend of popular Netflix Originals and library titles, along with a well-edited original trailer. Good job, Netflix! (The irony? Finding this page itself was a difficult task!)
  • The streamers still push their originals too hard. I consider this a pretty big mistake, to be honest. If customers want to watch classic horror films—and the data still says they do—then give them that content first and foremost. I understand why streamers prioritize their originals: they spent a lot of money on them! So they want to get a return. (They also overvalue “exclusivity”, but that’s a different issue.) But they should only prioritize original films that their customers actually want to watch.
  • I think that Max, Paramount+, and Peacock organize their Halloween collections really well, and Netflix and Disney+ do a good job as well. Conversely, Hulu has some smart, varied collections…but they’re buried at the bottom of the page. To me, the ideal order would probably be something like the most popular horror content on the first line in the collection, then family films and comedy (because, as I showed above, that’s the most popular horror content), then get creative. I like Peacock’s strategy of using “collections” of titles (because Universal has such a large library), but I would have put this higher up the page. 
  • Finding these Halloween landing pages is really tough, depending on the streamer. Even though, once again, I think Hulu’s Huluween page is a bit underwhelming and repetitive, Hulu is the only streamer that actually advertises and promotes their Halloween collection! It’s right at the top of their front page. Good! That’s what everyone should do. On my TV, I couldn’t find Netflix’s “Enter If You Dare” page, even after I searched for “Halloween”. To find Disney+’s “Halloween Collection”, you have to scroll over seven or eight boxes first, even passing a new Lego Marvel special. Peacock and Paramount+ had the same problem, though not as bad.
  • Especially the weekend before Halloween, every streamer should have their Halloween collections be the first thing you see when you log in. 
  • Apple TV+ is the only streamer without any sort of Halloween landing page. Their whole strategy appears to be: we have It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which is their number one film right now, and that’s it.
  • Prime Video’s “Now Screaming” section is really hard to find, but worse: Prime Video is more interested in selling add-on subscriptions than promoting their own stuff. When I opened up Prime Video, they tried to sell me a subscription to Shudder. A few lines below, it’s an ad to a subscription for Paramount+’s “Peak Screaming”. Looking at their categories, it goes: “Scream Season”, “Halloween Family Favorites”, Paramount+ Peak Screaming”, “Halloween Hilarity”, “Freevee”, and “Save 4.95 on Horror Films”…so yeah, Prime Video as a streaming service may be…dying? That’s a Hollywood horror story in its own right. Amazon care less about its streaming service and really does want to become an aggregator trying to sell subscriptions to other places, along with some limited Prime Video original content.

Have a Happy Halloween weekend and see you next week.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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