Paramount was expected to have a rather quiet fall after dominating the first half of 2022 with “Top Gun: Maverick” and a slew of other hit films, but Parker Finn’s original horror film “Smile” has given the studio yet another triumph as it crossed $200 million at the global box office this weekend, making it the highest grossing horror film of the year.
That honor is admittedly a much lower bar to clear this year than it usually is. Paramount also had the top horror grosser last year with “A Quiet Place — Part II,” which grossed $296 million globally. Pre-pandemic horror hits like “It” ($701 million in 2017) and the first “Quiet Place” ($334 million in 2018) racked up more ticket sales.
But nobody could have predicted that “Smile” would have outperformed some of the other horror films that have come out this year, including franchise titles like autumn rival “Halloween Ends” ($63 million domestic/$102 million worldwide), which has struggled theatrically compared to past installments thanks to poor word-of-mouth and a simultaneous streaming release, and Paramount’s own revival of “Scream” ($81 million domestic/$136 million worldwide), which did better during an early-year slump for the box office but didn’t get the word-of-mouth that “Smile” had.
“Smile” has even outperformed two hit summer horror films from Universal, Scott Derrickson’s “The Black Phone” ($89 milliion domestic/$161 million worldwide) and Jordan Peele’s “Nope” ($123 million domestic/$171 million worldwide). While “Nope” will likely finish with a higher domestic total than “Smile” thanks to Peele’s clout amongst American audiences, “Smile” has built a much stronger overseas total, impressive for a film from a debuting director with a reported budget of just $17 million.
“We shouldn’t be surprised at this overperformance considering how well horror has been performing both on the original and franchise sides,” Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “But this is an example of how unlike other genres, horror films don’t really have to worry about cannibalizing one another if the word-of-mouth is strong. Despite films like ‘Barbarian’ and ‘Halloween Ends’ also being in theaters, ‘Smile’ was so popular that it has just kept playing and playing through its sixth weekend.”
As we noted when it was released in September, Paramount did an excellent job setting the film up for success with a creative marketing campaign led by viral videos of actors sporting the film’s sinister, demon-possessed smile at Major League Baseball games. A premiere at Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest also was key to raising awareness among the hardcore horror buffs that would go on to sing its praises after release.
“Smile” also benefited from the poor reception of “Halloween Ends,” the other major studio horror offering in theaters last month. “Ends” was also available day-and-date on Peacock, further diminishing its stature among moviegoers in theaters. This allowed “Smile” to stand out more as a popular option for moviegoers looking to see a horror film around Halloween, not just in the U.S. but internationally as well.
Put those factors together, and you have the sixth hit film for Paramount this year, joining “Scream,” “Jackass Forever,” “The Lost City,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” and of course, “Top Gun: Maverick.” The studio will now turn to its potential Oscar contender, Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” a film hoping to turn a profit against its $78 million budget by drawing audiences with a wild depiction of 1920s Hollywood that sets itself apart from holiday offerings like “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish.”