Box Office: Why ‘Insidious’ Is Hollywood’s Most Underrated Horror Franchise


Premiere Of FilmDistrict's ″Insidious: Chapter 2″ - Red Carpet

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – SEPTEMBER 10: (L-R) Peter Schlessel, CEO, FilmDistrict, actors Rose Byrne, … [+] Patrick Wilson and producer Jason Blum arrive at the premiere of FilmDistrict’s “Insidious: Chapter 2” at CityWalk on September 10, 2013 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Oren Peli’s “little horror franchise that could” has earned $555 million worldwide on a combined $26.5 million budget, making it the second-most profitable major horror franchise behind Paranormal Activity.

Patrick Wilson will make his directorial debut with Insidious 5 (or whatever it ends up being called), so announced Blumhouse during today’s BlumFest event. Scott Teems wrote the script based on a story by franchise co-creator Leigh Whennell, a story that will take place after Insidious: Chapter 2 (Insidious: Chapter 3 and Insidious: The Last Key were prequels) and will feature Dalton Lambert (the “haunted” kid in the first Insidious, still played by Ty Simpkins) at college. Since Insidious debuted in April of 2011, the timeline matches up pretty well. No word on whether Rose Byrne will return, nor whether Lin Shane’s eccentric ghostbuster (who died in the first movie and yet headlined the above-mentioned prequels) will find a reason to reprise.

First, its release in April of 2011 ($99.5 million worldwide on a $1.5 million budget and the most profitable movie of the year) marked a comeback for director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. I adore Dead Silence and Death Sentence, but neither were hits. The Blumhouse flick, also produced by Oren Peli, sold itself as being “from the director of Saw and the director of Paranormal Activity,” which was a big deal considering Wan and Whannell’s Saw defined horror in the 2000’s and Peli’s “found footage” ghost story usurped it as the king of Halloween several years later. It’s not quite “from the director of Jaws and the director of Star Wars,” but it’s close. Speaking of which, Insidious remains a defining “rip-off, don’t remake” Hollywood success story.

It’s no criticism to note that Insidious, about a young boy thrust into a coma while the family (and the house) is threatened by malevolent spirits/demons, shares some surface-level similarities with Tobe Hopper and Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist. Just as it’s no shade to admit that The Fast and the Furious is a loose riff on Point Break, Raiders of the Lost Ark shares much with the H. Rider Haggard’s Alan Quartermain novels and Star Wars was a modern (and politically aware) homage to Flash Gordon. The “rip-offs” spawned franchises that took their place in the canon as iconic properties with iconic characters. Meanwhile, straight-up remakes to Poltergeist, Point Break and Flash Gordon (in 1980) were box office bombs.  

Insidious arguably kickstarted the post-Saw wave in mainstream horror, substituting real-world violence and grindhouse gore for supernatural spirits and (where applicable) religious fights. It would be the second time that James Wan would define mainstream horror. We’ll see if Malignant makes it a hit trick alongside Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream). Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2 earned $161.9 million in 2013 (including a $40 million opening weekend, compared to $13 million for Insidious) on a $5 million budget, while Chapter 3 (directed by Whannell) earned $120.45 million on a $10 million budget in 2015 while Whannell’s The Last Key earned $173 million on a $10 million budget in 2018.

While New Line’s The Conjuring Universe (also jump-started by Wan) got most of the attention and overall grosses, the Insidious movies have proven incredibly profitable. They have earned a total of $555.057 million worldwide on a combined budget of $26.5 million. That 20.9x rate of return makes Insidious the second-most profitable horror franchise save for Paranormal Activity ($890.4 million over six movies on a $28.45 million budget). Paranormal Activity (which put Blumhouse on the map) earned $193.4 million in 2009 on a $230,000 budget, making it the most profitable mainstream theatrical release ever depending on if Blair Witch Project ($249 million in 1999) cost $500,000 or $200,000 by the end. Still, that’s not bad company to keep.

The now deceased FilmDistrict handled the first two films, while Focus Features released Chapter 3 in North America with Sony handling overseas. The Last Key was a Universal flick domestically and a Sony release overseas. Sony is listed as being the distributor for Insidious 5, so we’ll see if they handle the whole wide world or if Universal gets a cut in North America. We’ll see if Insidious can somehow tie is continuity into the Conjuring Universe, which itself also apparently takes place within the DC Films universe. There could be no limit to how many characters Patrick Wilson can play in the multi-verse-y The Flash movie and/or Space Jam: A New Legacy. Think… “Crisis on Infinite Patrick Wilsons!”

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