Coming off this summer’s deadly box office, with domestic ticket sales the lowest they’ve been in more than a decade, studios and beleaguered theater owners are looking to the highly anticipated horror film “It” to scare up some serious business as the fall moviegoing season gets under way.
The R-rated adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name is projected to debut this weekend to at least $60 million, and potentially go on to amass tens, if not hundreds, of millions more during its run in theaters, on home entertainment platforms and in other ancillary markets. A follow-up film is already expected to begin production in the first quarter of next year.
Stocks of the country’s major theater circuits — AMC, Regal Entertainment, Cinemark and Imax — have been getting pummeled by the downturn. Summer box office, which ended on Labor Day, was down more than 20% from 2016, and year-to-date revenue is off 6%.
King, who was not involved with the making of the movie, says he’s excited about the film, which he describes as “fabulous.” The author even recorded a short video that introduced an extended theatrical trailer of the film in August. He says he has only one issue with the upcoming adaptation of his book. “Geez, I don’t even think they sent me any swag,” he jokes in a recent phone interview with Variety. “But maybe that’s a good thing.” (Producer Barbara Muschietti assures us that King has since been sent “a truckload” of swag.)
ZACH MEYER FOR VARIETY
Film adaptations of King stories have run the gamut from Oscar-worthy — see “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Misery” — to disastrous, such as the recent attempt to launch “The Dark Tower” as a movie franchise and TV show. The first film, released in late July, was ignored by audiences and panned by the critics. This weekend, “It” is expected to break the record for biggest opening weekend of a non-sequel, R-rated horror film, currently held by “The Conjuring,” which debuted to $41 million in 2013.
Not bad for what producer Seth Grahame-Smith calls “an R-rated movie starring 13-year-old kids.” It was also a film that underwent many changes, was stalled, and switched directors since it was first announced by Warner Bros. in early 2009. The result, says Grahame-Smith, is “a culmination of more than six years of trying to get the book made — and made the right way.”
The film is the first in a planned duology.
The novel itself is divided into two parts, the first section centering on seven kids coming of age in 1950s small-town Derry, Maine, who dub themselves “the Losers Club.” They battle an evil entity known as “It,” which can take the form of whatever you fear, though it’s most commonly portrayed as a grinning clown known as Pennywise. The second half of the book revisits the characters 27 years later, when “It” has returned to their hometown. ABC aired a miniseries adaptation in 1990, starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, and cut between the two timelines. But the new film focuses only on the first part of the story.
When Warners announced the movie eight years ago, it marked a reunion for producers Dan Lin and Roy Lee and writer David Kajganich, all of whom had worked together on 2007’s “The Invasion” for the studio. Shortly thereafter, Grahame-Smith and his producing partner David Katzenberg came on board. In 2012, director Cary Fukunaga signed on to direct after he proved he could handle an adaptation of a beloved novel with 2011’s acclaimed “Jane Eyre,” and went to work on the screenplay with Chase Palmer, whittling down King’s 1,100-plus-page opus.
In 2014, as the project took on more steam thanks to the success of the first season of Fukunaga’s HBO series “True Detective,” Warner Bros. moved “It” over to its New Line division. New Line has a strong horror history thanks to its highly successful “The Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise — earning the film company the nickname “The House That Freddy Built.”
In May 2015, Fukunaga announced the casting of Will Poulter (“The Revenant”) as Pennywise. But before the month was over, Fukunaga had dropped out (Poulter eventually followed). Rumors circulated he was unhappy with New Line’s proposed budget of $32 million, but in a September 2015 interview with Variety, Fukunaga dismissed that notion. “It was the creative that we were really battling,” he said. “They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.” Upon the announcement, King tweeted: “The remake of IT may be dead — or undead — but we’ll always have Tim Curry. He’s still floating down in the sewers of Derry.”
But, not unlike a character in a King novel, “It” rose again. Like so many in Hollywood, Argentine filmmaker Andy Muschietti and his sister-producer, Barbara Muschietti, had been tracking the project.