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Box Office: Goosebumps – This is the Beginning of a Franchise, But What’s Next?

After the weekend’s box office results trickled in yesterday, an online film critic I follow on Twitter offered what I imagine is a fairly common explanation for not seeing the new #1 movie:

Yes, Goosebumps dethroned The Martian, coming in on the slight high end of expectations with a domestic debut of $23.5 million.  Playing a bit like a meta mix of Jumanji and Night at the Museum, Goosebumps stars Jack Black as the real life Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, except in the universe of the film Stine’s original Goosebumps manuscripts actually act as prisons for the monsters he supposedly created in each individual book.  When those manuscripts are accidentally opened, kid-friendly hell breaks loose, and a couple of neighborhood kids along with Stine and his daughter race around town to capture all of the author’s famous monsters, like the Abominable Snowman, Slappy the evil ventriloquist dummy and an army of lawn gnomes.

Maybe calling those things “monsters” is an overstatement, but they certainly make for a humorous nuisance.

In the real world, Stine wrote just over 60 Goosebumps novellas between 1992 and 1997, and most of them were adapted to the Goosebumps TV series, which produced 74 episodes across four seasons for Fox Kids (in the US) from 1995 to 1998.  During this golden era for Goosebumps, “For three consecutive years, USA Today named Mr. Stine the best-selling author in America. For a time [the publisher] Scholastic was selling four million copies a month,” according to The New York Times.  However, while Stine continued to crank out the books his publisher (Scholastic) and packager (Parachute) fought over the profits and licensing rights, derailing any chance of a Goosebumps movie (Spielberg was very interested).

Eventually, Stine’s core audience grew up, and after he officially retired the series in 2000 he spent 8 years trying to capture the next generation of 8-12-year-olds with a new series like The Nightmare Room or Mostly Ghostly.  Meanwhile, the Goosebumps books still sold around 2 million copies per year, indicating the series had outlived the initial audience of 90s kids who had long since moved on.  There was still an audience for the books, but it was time to give them something more tailored to their generation.  So, Scholastic talked Stine into relaunching Goosebumps as Goosebumps Horrorland in 2008, which combined the classic Goosebumps anthology horror stories with an actual serialized story arc and offered additional content on multiple related websites.  It was such a success that Stine is still publishing new Goosebumps books today, re-branding the series every time he completes his story arc of the moment (e.g., first Horrorland, then Hall of Horrors, now Most Wanted, which published its most recent installment late last month).

Stine has now sold more than 350 million Goosebumps novels in 32 different languages, and while talking to Wired for Goosebumps’ 20th anniversary in 2012 he admitted, “I get 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds and 20-year-olds, and I hear from so many who grew up on Goosebumps and say they’re saving them for their kids to read, or that their kids are starting to read the series.”

Goosebumps-Movie-Jack-Black-vs.-SlappyThat’s why you make the Goosebumps movie now.  It’s just about the right time for those of us who grew up on the books to have kids of our own who we’d want to take to see the movie.  In fact, considering the fact that Goosebumps trails only Harry Potter on the list of best-selling book series of all time, a sub-$25m debut for the movie could be regarded as a disappointment.  Even Ender’s Game made $27m in its first weekend a couple of years ago.  However, part of the reason the Goosebumps sales are so high is that there are just so many of those dang books (over 100 at this point), and unlike just about anything else you could compare it to there isn’t any kind of central story.  Despite the serialization Stine introduced to the series in 2008, Goosebumps has mostly been like the Twilight Zone of YA novels, which made it perfectly suited for TV but a challenging fit for film.  In fact, the film’s producer Neal Moritz grew frustrated with their continued failure to come up with a good script, telling Hitfix, “I almost lost the enthusiasm to make a Goosebumps movie because I just didn’t think we were doing it justice.”

He kept at it, though, because, “I have a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old and I’ve seen so many kids movies with them that I kind of got it. I wanted to make a movie that they could see, a movie that was for them. My daughter is so damn excited. She’s asking ‘Can I invite my whole class to the premiere?’ And I’m like yes, yes you can. What I think is so special about “Goosebumps” is it kind of a badge of courage for kids. They’re scared and then they get through it and they’re so proud of themselves that they made it through.”

Sony, which desperately needed a win after The Walk, is understandably excited. The studio’s worldwide president of marketing and distribution told the media, “To be No. 1 in such a competitive marketplace is an incredible result.  This is the beginning of a franchise.

Fear Street
Fox must be thinking so too since they just acquired the film rights to Fear Street, R.L. Stines’ more teen-oriented horror series which predated Goosebumps. That series was specific to an individual town/family plagued by an ancient curse, and some of the characters recurred.

Sony has a hit movie, but do they really have a new franchise?  Well, yes.  The studio hired a writer to get to start work on a Goosebumps 2 script a couple of months ago, and now that the first movie is here audiences really like it, grading it as an “A” on CinemaScore.  The question, though, is where exactly do you take it from here?  They more or less emptied the tank with this movie, taking the entire Goosebumps series and shaking it loose to see how many cool monsters popped out, placing many of them in the background in group scenes.  What next?

If Neal Moritz knows what’s next, he wasn’t telling Hitfix, reacting to a question about whether or not the real R.L. Stein would write a book about the movie with a joke, “Maybe. Or maybe that’s what the next movie will be about it if we’re lucky to have it. [laughs] Maybe I’ll steal your idea.”

He probably won’t need to.  There are 181 Goosebumps books, 74 episodes of a TV show and one little ole movie.  There’s no way they should be out of ideas at this point.

Click/Tap the following to see a larger version:

Box Office Top Goosebumps12. Keeping with its ongoing trend, The Martian is now $22m ahead the pace of Interstellar but $26m behind Gravity which suggests its final domestic gross will easily beat Interstellar’s $188m but fall well short of Gravity‘s $274m.

3. In the recent Spielberg pantheon, Bridge of Spies couldn’t match Lincoln ($21m) but pretty much doubled War Horse’s opening ($7.5m).  The last Spielberg/Tom Hanks collaboration was 2004’s The Terminal, which opened to $19m on the way to a total domestic take of $77m.  However, it’d be foolish to predict where a Spielberg movie will end up based on its opening weekend.  Remember how I said War Horse made less than $8m in its opening?  Yeah, it ultimately made $79m domestic/$177m worldwide.

6. At this point, Pan is going to lose at least $150m for Warner Bros., and this second weekend drop of 61% might have made it worse.

9. Woodlawn is another of those faith-based movies very few paid attention to prior to this weekend.  It dramatizes the true life story of Tony Nathan, an eventual NFL football player who helped ease racial tensions at his Alabama high school in 1973 by convincing almost his entire team to accept Jesus Christ into their lives.  It comes from The Erwin Brothers, who were previously best known for October Baby and Mom’s Night Out.

10. The Scorch Trials is going to easily miss the first Maze Runner‘s $102m domestic total, but it still has China left meaning its worldwide total probably won’t be radically far behind the first Maze Runner‘s $340m.

13. There was an incredibly miniscule chance that word-of-mouth would turn The Walk into something slightly less embarrassing for Sony at the box office after its dead-on-arrival wide debut last weekend.  Instead, it plummeted 68% this weekend.  So, in The Walk/Everest‘s race to become the next “You simply must see this thing in IMAX!” event ala Gravity the clear victor has actually been The Martian, which didn’t limit its appeal to a single, premium ticket format.

What’s Up Next?: Hollywood has arguably overstuffed October as a way of yielding all of November to Spectre, Hunger Games and The Good Dinosaur because we’re already looking at an crowded marketplace and next weekend brings us four new wide openings (Jem and the Holograms, The Last Witch Hunter, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Rock the Kasbah) and one wide expansion (Steve Jobs).

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