'Scream 4': Why Didn't It Slay The Box Office?

Movie experts weigh in on why Ghostface didn't scare up impressive returns for the franchise.

Unlike Indiana Jones and John McClane, Ghostface has not aged particularly well. While Indy's franchise and McClane's "Die Hard" films took lengthy breaks from the multiplex and returned with impressive box-office debuts, "Scream 4" got off to a start that fell on the low end of projections.

The horror flick's $19.3 million debut on more than 4,400 screens was, in fact, a major fall from the previous installment in 2000, which Box Office Mojo points out was $52 million when adjusted for ticket-price inflation. While insiders were hardly expecting "Scream 4" to live up to the performance of the original trilogy, the movie nonetheless failed to widely reconnect with moviegoers.

So what happened? A combination of factors, according to industry experts, conspired to hold back the film and cast doubt on the idea that the Weinstein Company will be able to launch a fresh "Scream" trilogy.

"Part of the reason that 'Scream 4' didn't connect with audiences the way previous installments have is because of the overall climate change of horror films over the last decade," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "Whereas grisly deaths, bloodbaths and torture porn were once the order of the day, creepy and spooky — 'Paranormal Activity,' 'Insidious' — seem to be what horror audiences die for these days."

What's more, it wasn't just a matter of failing to link up with horror-movie trends but with broader changes in the entertainment landscape. " 'Scream' was a pop-culture phenomenon of the late '90s and it lost its relevancy soon after," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com, pointing to that decade's often heavily ironic humor.

And then there's a matter of Ghostface himself, a recognizable killer, to be sure, but one who's by design changeable and thus potentially less iconic than other horror-movie villains. "The fact that Ghostface is a different person from movie to movie is both a good thing and a bad thing," said Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com. "It creates suspense, but it also stops the character from becoming as powerful as Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers."

To all these issues add in the generally weak critical assessment, and you've got a recipe for a perfectly fine box-office debut but one that's hardly impressive. While some insiders suspect the weak opening will dash plans to kick-start a new trilogy, others expect overseas ticket sales to compensate for subpar domestic business, increasing the likelihood of "Scream 5" shifting into production down the road.

"This could end up grossing $100 million worldwide, which may lead to another sequel or reboot despite its lackluster Stateside debut," Bock said. "Ghostface will likely terrorize audiences again, because the number-one rule for franchise fright flicks is: You can never keep a horror icon buried for long."

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