Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 24.
Horror movies are a Halloween staple, but they're typically a box-office nightmare.
When you take a look at the 100 top-grossing U.S. films of all time, adjusted for inflation, there are only a few examples of the horror genre scattered among the bunch. The 1975 mother-of-all-blockbusters Jaws ranks No. 7 with $1.1 billion in receipts (adjust for inflation from $260 million), while the 1973 possession of Linda Blair in The Exorcist ranks No. 9 of all time with an inflation-adjusted $952 million in box office revenue ($232.9 million without the adjustment).
It gets scarce after that. If you generously consider 1984's Ghostbusters a "horror comedy," it comes in at No. 34 with $612.8 million (adjusted from $242.2 million). After that, it's only 1999's The Sixth Sense at No. 67 with $495.7 million (up from $293.5 million).
Sure, others like 1953's House of Wax, 1954's Rear Window, 1984's Gremlins and 1987's Fatal Attraction make the Top 200. However, when it comes to the beloved slasher film, only one that could be considered even remotely part of the genre stands among the crowd: Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho. Though known more for the gore it didn't show than what it did, Psycho is about the closest the slasher genre has ever come to a firmly mainstream hit.
Why is that? Well, a lot of it has to do with just when that genre peaked. In the late '70s and early '80s, when Michael Myers, Leatherface, Freddy Kreuger and Jason Vorhees were all making their big-screen debuts, the PG-13 rating didn't exist. You either went for the R with as much blood and nudity as you could muster, or you aimed for PG and came away with, well, Gremlins. That rating debuted in 1984, but the slasher genre had grown so accustomed to the freedoms that the R rating offered that it left PG-13 to supernatural fare like The Sixth Sense and to summer blockbusters looking to put a few more teens in the seats and naughty words on screen.
Even at its broadest, the slasher film has had a limited audience. Nobody involved seems to mind that too much, and it's helped bail out the genre during some of its darker-yet-sillier moments. The following 25 slasher movies were the genre's biggest box-office successes, according to Box Office Mojo, but also a reminder that there are films in this genre that are horrifying for reasons beyond grisly murders and doors that should never be unlocked:
Released: January 4, 2013
Box office gross $34.3 million
So you've rebooted an entire franchise, let it run its course a second time and want to draw from that well again. Why not pretend that all those films in the middle never happened and just go back to right after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre took place in 1974. Keep Leatherface as a good guy, remove any of the underlying social commentary, add some 3-D gimmickry and see what happens. Well, by slasher standards, it was a rousing success and did just enough business to make the upcoming Leatherface worthwhile. By the series's standards? Eh, there have been worse.
Released: June 3, 1983
Box office gross $34.7 million
Alfred Hitchcock had been dead for three years by the time this was released, but director Richard Franklin managed to bring back Anthony Perkins and maintain at least some semblance of the original's tense, measured horror. It's actually a decent successor to the original, and Norman Bates's struggles with his inner demons offset any damage done by Meg Tilly, Dennis Franz and Robert Loggia. The two films that followed were, admittedly, not good, but we'd put this clever and, at times, cleverly funny film far ahead of the 1998 shot-for-shot remake of the original (sorry, Gus).
Released: September 13, 1991
Box office gross $34.8 million
This film is an example of why the slasher genre was a laughingstock for a number of years. The creepy bad guy -- a child murderer burned alive, mind you -- is played more for laughs and really bad puns. This installment, in particular, is known more for cameos by Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Roseanne Barr than for contributing anything of worth to the series. There's bad 3D, a Goo-Goo Dolls-heavy soundtrack and the promise of an end to the series, which of course led to 1994's New Nightmare.
Released: August 13, 1982
Box office gross: $36.7 million
AKA "the one with the hockey mask." Jason Vorhees first gets his signature look in this film, which somehow still features a bunch of teens going up to Camp Crystal Lake to get slaughtered. This film knocked E.T. out of the top spot and would have been the biggest horror film of the year if Tobe Hooper and Stephen Spielberg didn't make Poltergeist that year.
Release: September 25, 1998
Box office gross: $38.1 million
A straight slasher movie in a post-Scream world. Interesting call, but having a bunch of actual urban-legend murders peppered throughout the film and loading the cast with '90s teen stars like Tara Reid, Joshua Jackson, "Noxema Girl" Rebecca Gayheart and a post-My So-Called Life/pre-Oscar and Suicide Squad Jared Leto certainly helped its case.
Released: April 15, 2011
Box office gross $38.2 million
Even the slasher movie parodies outlive their freshness date. More than a decade after the last film in the series, director Wes Craven, writer Kevin Williamson and original cast members Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox went back to work and brought a tremendous cast of newcomers with them. Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Alison Brie, Kristen Bell, Lucy Hale, Anna Paquin, Hayden Panettiere -- and a plot centered around horror remakes. It was modestly clever, but was still telling jokes about slasher films that were about 15 years out of date.
Released: October 6, 2006
Box office gross $39.5 million
A prequel to the 2003 remake of the 1974 original. We don't blame audiences one bit for getting lost in all of that or critics for hating the paper-thin story that accompanied buckets of cannibalistic gore while providing little context. This was a big, dumb sequel that remakes were supposed to kill. Even Leatherface doesn't have as much staying power as dumb sequels.
Released: May 9, 1980
Box office gross $39.7 million
No Jason Vorhees until very late in the film. No idea who the killer is until much later in the film. No supernatural, freakishly strong, mask-wearing, unstoppable killing machine. Just a bunch of kids at a camp being slaughtered one by one -- before any other horror film decided that was a great idea. Sean Cunningham and Victor Miller may have been riding the coattails of a different slasher classic, but they laid down many of the genre's ground rules in doing so.
Released: November 13, 1998
Box office gross $40 million
You attempted to grab more cash from the audiences while sending the survivors of the last movie on a trip to the Bahamas. With Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze Jr. aging out of their '90s stardom and angry fisherman Ben Wills remaining a lackluster bad guy, this sequel put the franchise out of its misery before it drifted even further into mockable Scream territory.
Released: April 11, 2008
Box office gross $43.9 million
Heads rolling across dance floors, Jaime Lee Curtis disco numbers, a revenge plot -- basically none of those great portions of the 1980 original made it into this remake. Instead, we get a pretty straightforward obsessed-killer narrative in which helpless Brittany Snow has to be saved by Idris Elba. Jaime Lee Curtis killed her own brother with an ax in the original. You know what? Just watch that one, willya?
Released: August 19, 1988
Box office gross $44.8 million
The bad news? This is where they kill of original heroine Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp). The good news? It doesn't happen until she trains a bunch of kids at a mental hospital to hypnotize themselves and fight Freddy in their dreams. It's all amazingly '80s, complete with a theme song from hair-metal band Dokken, but it's easily one of the most entertaining films of the series -- though it definitely marks the beginning of a really bad stretch for Freddy and company.
Released: October 25, 1978
Box office gross $47 million
This film is the reason there's a slasher genre at all. The masked, deranged Michael Mayers and his oft-dirtied knife were the template for Jason Vorhees and countless lesser-known big-screen killers that followed. What's striking about it in comparison to the films it spawned is not only how little blood or even murder there is in the whole thing, but how remarkably good the acting from Jaime Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance is. Oh, and you know all of that sweet, sweet synth you were really into while binge watching Stranger Things? Thank director and writer John Carpenter, who used it to great effect in his score.
Released: February 3, 2006
Box office gross $47.9 million
The call was coming from inside the house in 1979, too. The first 20 minutes of the original film are one of the greatest of the horror genre and are a legitimately unsettling time for audience members seemingly just waiting for Carol Kane to die. It was the basis for the opening sequence in Scream and, for some reason, Simon West and Jake Wade Wall thought it would be a great idea to throw the rest of that film away and just turn those 20 minutes into 87 minute instead. It worked in that they more than made back their $15 million budget, but it was horrendous enough -- and had one of the least satisfying endings in horror history -- that Screen Gems cancelled plans for a sequel.
Released: August 19, 1988
Box office gross $49.4 million
This is where Freddy got outright silly. Killing people with roach motels and asthma, dying with help from a lullaby, facing off with karate experts. This was the highest-grossing film of the original series, but Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight) isn't a big believer in subtlety and basically made this more of a ham-fisted action blockbuster than a horror film.
Released: Jan 16, 2009
Box office gross $51.5 million
An odd choice for a big-budget remake, but the 1981 Canadian slasher film largely set in a coal mine got a gritty reboot anyway. Some of the names remain the same, but some of the subtlety is lost and the film takes a far darker turn than its predecessor. The one constant? Respirators and pick axes are still a frightening combination.
Released: August 7, 1998
Box office gross $55 million
This was the seventh installment in the original series and does us all the favor of forgetting that the fourth, fifth and sixth movies happened (it just goes without saying that we're ignoring the third one with the witches. Jaime Lee Curtis is back, there are a lot of great references to Psycho (including Jamie Lee's mom, Janet Leigh) and the rest of the cast is packed with Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, L.L. Cool J and a young Joseph Gordon Leavitt. Not great, but in the self-aware age of Scream, about as good as the original-recipe slasher genre could get.
Released: August 31, 2007
Box office gross $58.3 million
Woo! Rob Zombie throwing in a bunch of '70s music, having Michael Myers go from murderous kid to WWE superstar in no time at all and just flat-out offing Danny Trejo. With a '70s look and soundtrack, a lot of nods to the originals and just enough torture porn to keep the younger viewers happy, Halloween didn't exactly eclipse the source material. However, focusing more on Michael Myers eliminated some of the suspense, but gave audiences are far better sense of the killer's mind than the series had to that point.
Released: April 30, 2010
Box office gross $63.1 million
Kelley Leak as Freddy? Well, after seeing Jackie-Lee Earley play a pedophile in Little Children, there's admittedly a reason for casting him here. Sadly, there's really not enough of a difference between this film and the original -- save for production value -- to make this film look like anything but what it is: a cash grab that's absolutely lucky it wasn't converted into 3-D to scare up more dollars.
Released: February 13, 2009
Box office gross $65 million
You can kind of call it a remake, except for the fact that they get right to the mask and machete and make Ol' Ma Vorhees a hysterical footnote rather than giving her desire for revenge the weight it deserves. It's a somewhat clever way of bundling the first four movies into one -- all while putting Jason on a low-carb diet for the new millennium -- but it scrubs away all the nuance while just getting to the gore and throwing a modest amount of new jokes into the mix.
Released: Oct. 17, 1997
Box office gross $72.6 million
Scream writer Kevin Williamson decided to play this one straight and sent disgruntled hook-wielding Gorton's fisherman Ben Willis after Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillipe. Though it now looks like a VH1 special entitled I Killed The '90s, this film was a huge success at the time and inspired a whole lot of other films to load up on young talent and soundtrack filler (Korn, The Offspring and Toad The Wet Sprocket, anyone?) when a decent plot wasn't available.
Released: October 17, 2003
Box office gross $80.6 million
We aren't going to recap this one. No, we're instead going to inform you that Michael Bay is responsible for just about every remake you've seen on this list. His Platinum Dunes production company had a hand in the Texas Chainsaw remakes, the new Halloween, the new Nightmare on Elm Street and is behind both the Purge and Ouija series. So just in case you're wondering why any of the above are heavy on the effects and light on plot, Mr. Transformers has the answer for you.
Released: August 15, 2003
Box office gross $82.6 millionIt killed both of the original franchises, but what a way to go out. Kids die at Crystal Lake, they die in dreams, they die at Westin Hills psychiatric hospital... it's all fantastic. Even the idea of Freddy using Jason as his own Frankenstein monster is pretty fantastic. Critics hated it, but fan service pretty much never makes critics happy. For '80s and '90s kids who've had this schoolyard fantasy for years, it was well worth the price of admission.
Released: Feb. 4, 2000
Box office gross $89.1 million
Yep, Ghostface goes to Hollywood. The joke had worn well thin by this point, and cameos by Carrie Fisher, Roger Corman and Jay and Silent Bob couldn't prevent this from being the worst film of the original trilogy. We don't care about the rules of a trilogy: By playing by that rulebook, the Scream franchise became what it once hated.
Released: December 12, 1997
Box office gross $101.4 million
Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson were still at the helm, everybody who didn't die in the first one came back and even wrongly accused Cotton Weary gets some big-screen time with help from Liev Schreiber. The twists are inspired, the pokes at sequels are still fresh and the mystery aspect of the plot still drives most of the screams. A worthy successor, which means there can be only one film in the No. 1 spot...
Released: December 20, 1996
Box office gross $103 million
Sure, it made the slasher self-aware and put to rest many of its worst tropes. Yes, all of those jokes forced it to be far more clever with its writing and give far more thought to who was holding the knife. But Scream's greatest achievement wasn't skewering the slasher genre, but reviving it and giving it a reason to live. Wes Craven saw the first wave peak and come crashing down in a sea of silly cliches. With Scream, he gave it a second chance by clinging to the element he loved. He also made Neve Campbell's protagonist strong without canonizing her as a saint. Thanks for being less judgy than some of your contemporaries, Wes.