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“Halloween” just broke this box office record, but what does that even mean?

Headlines are touting its status as the top-grossing film with a female lead over 55 years old, something the internet does not appear to have been keeping track of.

“Halloween” just broke this box office record, but what does that even mean?

Anytime a horror movie has a big opening weekend, the resulting headlines are haunted by familiar puns. “The Exorcism of Some Lady SCARES UP $35M.” “Knifey McKillmurder 2 SLICES UP $47M.” “Son of Chupacabra has MONSTER opening with $54M.” And further examples.

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Over the weekend, the new Halloween sequel/reboot (seekboot?) vivisected up the scare-ifyingly large sum of $77M, breaking several records in the process. One of those records in particular, though, caught our attention.

The record in question is Biggest Movie Opening with a Female Lead Over 55. My instant reaction to that record was something along the lines of “Hell yeah, JLC. Literally slay, kween.” Curtis is someone who’s easy to root for, even aside from the fact that the film rests heavily on her shoulders and she carries it off admirably.

That’s probably why so many media outlets dutifully reported this statistic. I was going to join the chorus and report it for Fast Company as well, but then a simple question from my editor sent me barreling down a women-of-a-certain-age rabbit hole. Please join me.

What was the previous record holder for Biggest Movie Opening with a Female Lead Over 55? That’s what my editor wanted to know and what I intended to find out. I will spare you any horror movie-style suspense and say that I failed. But what a journey it has been.

Google, the first line of offense in such inquiries, proved to be useless. Any variation on the keywords simply brought up all the near-identical reports that the record had been broken. If there had been a gatekeeper website devoted to monitoring such things and updating them accordingly, it was well hidden.

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The website most known for monitoring these records, Box Office Mojo, didn’t have this information either. Box Office Mojo is the site entertainment reporters turn to upwards of 50 times per week as an industry authority, and yet before this search I’d never delved into many fields of its records. Looking through the All Time vertical, you can easily find out all sorts of esoteric trivia–the #1 NC-17 rated film (Showgirls), Most Consecutive Weeks at #1 (Titanic), and Worst Very Wide Opening Weekend (OogieLoves in the Big Balloon Adventure.) Not so easy to find: Biggest Movie Opening with a Female Lead Over 55. (An email to the press contact at IMDb, which owns Box Office Mojo, has gone unreturned as of this posting.)

What likely happened is that this has not been an ongoing record the industry has been watching. Universal Studios, and others of its ilk, probably anticipate possible records they might be able to tout and then check internally to see whether they bear out. (An email to a press contact at Universal, which distributed Blumhouse’s take on Halloween, has gone as yet unreturned.) Without seeing the previous record-holders on the list, though, it’s hard to know for sure exactly what counts as a film with a Female Lead Over 55. The best we can do is guesstimate.

Sigourney Weaver was third-billed in Avatar, which brought in $77 in its 2009 opening weekend (just a nosehair behind Halloween’s $77.5 take). Does that count as a Movie with a Female Lead Over 55? And if so, are we adjusting for inflation? (We are not adjusting for inflation.) Far more recently, Holly Hunter was the co-lead in The Incredibles 2, which boasted a tremendously ass-kicking $182.6M. Does that not count because it’s an animated movie?

Holly Hunter’s role in The Incredibles 2 may be no less vital to that film’s success than Jamie Lee Curtis’s in Halloween, but the difference is in how much the film relies on each respectively. Hunter is part of an ensemble in The Incredibles, whereas Curtis is instead surrounded by talented performers like Judy Greer and newcomer Andi Matichak in smaller roles. Therein lies the rub.

The amount of space JLC occupies in Halloween, and what she does with it, is way more than we’re used to seeing from a woman her age in a major release. The reason this record isn’t something that’s come up much as a ceiling to be shattered is that the national conversation around movies often excludes older women.

Perhaps the success of Halloween will prove to executives that letting older women carry a movie isn’t such a scary idea.

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