Why Horror Movies Attract Younger and More Diverse Audiences

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On March 22, Jordan Peele’s horror film Us, the writer-director’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Get Out, opened to wide critical acclaim. While filmophiles of all ages lined up to see what The New Yorker calls a “colossal cinematic achievement,” the majority of the film’s audience are likely under 25.

Horror films have historically attracted younger audiences, and Peele’s contributions bring in diverse audiences as well, as his main characters are primarily African American. But why do Us and other modern horror films resonate with millennials and people of all racial backgrounds? How are film production companies harnessing this fact in order to attract viewers?

2017 marked the first year that horror films grossed more than $1 billion at the box office, and the genre shows no signs of slowing down. Let’s explore the appeal and popularity of horror movies with these audiences:

Marketing Horror to Millennials

Peele’s Get Out brought in $176 million in the U.S. alone, according to IMDB. This is beyond impressive for a film with an estimated $5 million budget. The film follows in the steps of other horror blockbusters made on shoestring budgets, such as The Blair Witch Project and the Blumhouse Productions vehicle Paranormal Activity.

Blumhouse is the production company of Jason Blum, responsible for numerous smash films in the horror genre, including The Purge, Insidious, and The Gift. The company’s success lies in its quality films as well as its marketing tactics.

Marketing for millennial audiences has transformed how film studios advertise their films. Social media is now at the crux of marketing campaigns, since that’s where you’re most likely to find millennials. According to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 93 percent of millennials and Generation Z are using social media on their smartphones for at least an hour per day.

That simple fact means that film companies need to launch a social media campaign before, during, and after their film’s release date — or be willing to ride the coattails of fan-made social media events. And the more traffic a film’s site gets, the more people share, and the more people are interested in adding a particular film to their weekend plans.

Understanding Horror Flick Audiences

Millennials, or those born between the years of 1981 and 1996, are shaping up to be the largest and most influential generation in American history. But as time marches on, Generation Z is getting in on the picture as well. Also known as the iGeneration, Generation Z are those born from 1997 to the present, and many of them are old enough to have a strong voice when it comes to box office revenue.

In fact, according to No Film School, “moviegoers under 25 are twice as likely to see a horror film as those over 30.” And those young people make up about 29 percent of the box office spend.

But what is it about horror films that make them so attractive to millennials and Generation Z? Some sources, including the New York Post, claim that horror movies are popular during times of political and social upheaval because it allows young people to let out their anxiety. Horror films are, by definition, nerve-wracking and stressful, but movie audiences are allowed to respond to those feelings in a visceral way, such as audibly crying out or gasping, which they may not be able to do in real-life settings.

Horror films are just one avenue that millennials seek out for entertainment. But millennials also have a huge voice when it comes to avoiding particular forms of entertainment — none more notable than the National Football League. While 202.3 million viewers tuned in to regular season games in 2014, millennials were notably absent. In fact, Ohio University reports that a full 67 percent of millennials don’t trust the players. And why watch something that you find untrustworthy?

Diversity and Inclusion in Film and Beyond

In 2019, it’s likely that the NFL hasn’t attracted many more millennial fans following the controversy of players being fined for taking a knee in protest. The organization is missing out on $3.39 trillion in millennial spending power, a substantial amount that horror films are getting in on.

The stark difference between the horror genre and professional football when it comes down to attracting millennials may lie in their advertising tactics, as well as their stance on social issues. As the growth among racial and ethnic minority populations is outpacing that of whites across the world, film companies must be keenly aware of that trend and market films accordingly.

Diversity and inclusion in cast lists, as well as focused marketing campaigns, may be key to keeping younger audiences interested in the horror genre well into the future. Interesting plots and high-caliber writing don’t hurt either, as Jordan Peele has so eloquently demonstrated. We can only hope that Peele’s success will set the stage for more horror directors of color and diverse casts that keep audiences engaged and the horror genre thriving.