One of the biggest talks in the movie world last weekend was the latest James Wan horror pic, Malignant. Starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, and George Young, the film centers on Madison Mitchell, who has horrific visions of a mysterious figure murdering innocent victims throughout her life. Once the review embargo lifted, the film was met with mostly critical praise, highlighting the incredibly insane twist in the third act. As of this writing, it stands at a solid 76% on rotten tomatoes. Despite the high critic score, audiences are actually divided with this movie based on the 53% score.
Unfortunately, the buzz surrounding the over-the-top twist didn’t translate to box office success as Malignant only opened up at $5.4 million domestically. The James Wan film didn’t do much better on HBO Max, with 753,000 watching per household, according to Samba TV. This is 53% below the Wan-produced pic, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which had 1.6 million viewers per household during opening weekend. With all the hype surrounding the horror movie going into the weekend, what happened? James Wan is no stranger to horror success, with Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring under his belt. Of course, one of the most obvious reasons that the film falters a bit is due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Let’s dive deeper into the possible reasons why Malignant failed at the box office.
Warner Brothers Didn’t Properly Advertise The Horror Film
Malignant’s hype didn’t start until Thursday evening/Friday of that exact same week. The James Wan picture entered last Monday quiet as a mouse, with the generic trailers only providing small information about the horror film. Usually, when the review embargo isn’t lifted until the very last minute, that’s a strong tell that a movie is bad. However, the reasoning behind Warner Brothers’ strategy was to prevent any spoilers on the crazy twist in Malignant.
This made the movie a very difficult one to promote. As previously stated, the trailer appeared to be a generic horror story that audiences had seen a million times before. The reviews didn’t necessarily help either. While positive reviews got the picture some good word-of-mouth, critics would avoid discussing the plot so that audiences would go in spoiler-free. That means many audiences had absolutely no clue over what the film is about, thus the reasoning most opted to not purchase a ticket. In essence, Malignant is actually really fun with an insane (in a good way) twist; however, the pic overall feels better served during a midnight or Halloween showing. The hype for the film was a case of a little too late.
The Lack Of Big Stars Didn’t Help The Film
While the failure to properly promote Malignant was one of the big reasons that the movie failed to make a splash at the box office, so was the lack of big-name talent. The 2014 film, Gone Girl, had to deal with some of the issues that Malignant had. The advantage that the David Fincher vehicle had was that it was a known Intellectual property with Ben Affleck, who was gaining steam because of his announced role as Batman. Add in the fact that David Fincher is one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood and people overlooked the generic trailer because the talent helped sell them on the movie.
The biggest name attached to Malignant was James Wan himself. Wan has come a long way since his first feature in 2004, with the filmmaker helming huge films such as Aquaman and Furious 7. Annabelle Wallis is mainly remembered for her role in 2014’s Annabelle. The talented actress has also been in Peaky Blinders and The Mummy reboot, though her roles weren’t as vital as Annabelle. The supporting cast members were mostly featured on independent films or television shows. James Wan’s first horror feature in five years should’ve gotten more fanfare going in, but as previously stated, Warner Brothers just didn’t know how to advertise this film without possibly giving away the huge twist.
There’s no guarantee that this film would’ve done better if a name was truly attached to the horror vehicle; however, brand recognition is important for a reason. Notable stars more often than not can sell tickets. Annabelle Wallis does a fantastic job with the complex role that she’s given and she certainly deserves the lead title; however, Warner Brothers should’ve linked an A-list name to the project first before moving forward. Malignant isn’t a total bust due to its low production budget, but this is a lesson that the studio executives have surely learned going forward.