The First Purge, a prequel to the popular Universal/Blumhouse Productions franchise, managed to bring in about $2.5 million from Tuesday night preview screenings. It’s a solid start for the picture going into the 5-Day 4th of July Weekend but also happens to be the lowest earner in the franchise in terms of preview grosses. The original The Purge film delivered $3.44 million on a Thursday night prior to posting a $34 million opening weekend while its follow-up, The Purge: Anarchy, grossed $2.64 million before going on to have a $29.8 million opening weekend. The Purge: Election Year was the first of the franchise to truly take advantage of the 4th of July Holiday Weekend, posting $3.64 million on Thursday night (best preview gross of the series), and using that moment to generate $31.5 million in the 3-Day and $36 million in the 4-day weekend overall. While Blumhouse’s smart budgeting of the franchise leaves little to worry about regarding The First Purge‘s ability to make a profit, it might behoove the production team to take a second look at their franchise and its future (something that, to my delight, they seem to actually be doing, read below!).
Box Office Summary of The Purge Franchise: (Title / Worldwide Gross / Total Domestic Gross / Opening Weekend Gross / Budget / (Date of Release)), Ranked by Highest Gross Worldwide
- The Purge: Election Year / $118,587,880 / $79,213,375 / $31,515,110 / $3 million / (7/1/2016)
- The Purge: Anarchy / $111,928,365 / $71,962,800 / $29,816,675 / $11 million / (7/18/2014)
- The Purge / $89,328,627 / $64,473,115 / $34,058,360 / $11 million / (6/13/2014)
- The First Purge / TBD / TBD / TBD / $13 million / (7/4/2018) (Not worth updating until the full weekend gross comes in)
The Purge franchise revolves around the concept of a dystopian America (in the “not so distant future”) in which the government takes one day a year to legalize all crime, including murder, for twelve hours, allowing the citizens to have a cathartic release of pent-up aggression and fear that is shown to have positive effects on the well-being of the society and the economy (in the world of the movie that is). While the series has never been the strongest player with critics, yielding mixed reviews at best, the films have resulted in very strong box office results with every installment.
Produced by Jason Blum through his Blumhouse Productions shingle, and distributed by Universal Pictures, The Purge series is a perfect example of the Blumhouse formula: Take a high-concept & horror-adjacent premise, give the production a very low budget (usually under $10 million, or just barely over that), and market the film like a blockbuster “event”. The results speak for themselves, with the first Purge film opening to $34 million in 2013, taking the #1 spot that weekend, and ending its box office run $64 million domestically and $89 million in its worldwide gross, all on a budget of $3 million. Boasting a gross nearly 30x its budget (a multiplier that would any distributor’s mouth water, be it an indie label or major studio), the series has spawned two sequels and grossed nearly $320 million in total worldwide on a combined budget of just $25 million (both sequels costing about $11 million each). This doesn’t even include the full gross of the newly released prequel, which despite looking to post the lowest opening for the franchise, will likely still turn a handsome profit given its mere $13 million budget.
It is worth noting that while the series critical reception is still thoroughly mixed, the overall reception of the franchise has been slowly, but steadily, trending in a more positive direction with every installment. Critical reviews of the series have noticeably improved as the series has continued, with many critics citing the films’ commentary on race and socioeconomic class as an interesting highlight. Audience reaction has also made leaps and bounds from where it started with the first installment. While The Purge posted a “C” cinemascore, the second entry The Purge: Anarchy earned a “B”, and the most recent entry, The Purge: Election Year, actually managed to garner a “B+”. I personally believe that “event film” marketing style is a definite factor in this, as it makes heavy, yet pointed use of the films’ enticing, neon-bathed and warped patriotic imagery its advertising efforts. In a prime example of the perfect mix of business and creative, the series directors and producers have actually done a lot for the franchise by binding the films’ visual and thematic identity to the July 4th weekend. After Anarchy, each of the films has been positioned so as to open near the week of July 4th, and this has proven effective as each of the Purge sequels has passed the $100 million mark in terms of worldwide gross. The July 4th relation also seems to be assisting in drumming up buzz for the films as Anarchy, so far, has been the only film of the franchise to open with under $30 million, with Election Year opening to $31 million and The First Purge tracking toward $30 million as part of its projection range (the original Purge is an anomaly as it had the originality factor due to its being the first in the series, although it also managed to open over the $30 million mark).
All that said, the financials of the fourth installment in the franchise, The First Purge, seem to suggest that franchise may be succumbing to creative fatigue. Smartly, the film is being released today (Happy Independence Day Everyone!!), marking the first time that a film in the franchise has been released directly on July 4th. As mentioned above, the films’ identity as a series has been tied into the image of Independence Day quite well, and will likely result in a strong Wednesday box office haul once results come in tomorrow. However, the tracking for the prequel looks to be more so on the lower end for the franchise. The trades are pegging the 5-day (Wednesday to Sunday) opening weekend gross for the film to be anywhere in the range of $25-$36 million although some trades are predicting a narrower $25-$30 million. Given the $13 million budget of the Purge prequel, from a financial standpoint, that opening doesn’t look half bad. However, it must be a bit unnerving to the producers that highest predictions the possible gross over a 5-day period are looking to just barely match the 4-day gross of Election Year back in 2016. Opening on July 1st, and running into the 4th that next Monday, Election Year grossed a little over $36 million in the 4-day span, but still managed to pull in $31 million over the course of the regular 3-day weekend (just $3 million less than the first Purge movie). However, in the case of The First Purge, the higher end of 5-day predictions landing around $35+ million suggests a potential 3-day (Friday to Sunday) gross in the low to mid-$20 million range. That’s potentially $10+ million that would be left on the table.
It’s clear from this data that audiences are beginning to grow tired of the franchise. While the Blumhouse model of filmmaking could easily allow the Universal production shingle to crank out at least one, if not two, more installments, it may be prudent of Jason Blum and company (the other producers including Michael Bay, Andrew Form, and Bradley Fuller through their Platinum Dunes production label), as well as series creator James DeMonaco, to reevaluate the creative direction of the films. Indeed, this was the primary complaint regarding the previous installment. While Election Year did receive praise for its world-building, action sequences, and visuals, many critics noted the seemingly muddled message of the film as well as the series as a whole, stating that while the scripts of the Purge films seem to put out the message that the violence and atrocities committed by those who take part in “The Purge” are terrible and should not be condoned, the tone and directorial choices seem to glorify and sensationalize the violence, making for confusion with regard to what exactly the film is trying to say. Some critics and audiences have also noted that, while thematically timely, some of the violence can feel a bit “too close to home”, especially when taken in the context of the current political climate. All this combines to create the sense that series unsure of what it is saying and lacking in direction.
Despite this, there is still potential for the franchise. Regardless of the Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic scores, critics and audiences have unanimously praised the originality and sheer boldness of the premise, and for many, the possibility of exploring different facets of that premise and further fleshing out of the world of The Purge is what has kept audiences invested so that they keep coming back to the theaters again and again. The creators of the franchise do seem to recognize this, as it was announced in 2017 that a Purge television series was in development with Blumhouse and Universal Cable Productions. The series has since been set to premiere on the USA Network and Syfy Channel this coming September and looks to explore the lives of several different characters during the twelve hours of “The Purge” and follow them as they make decisions to try and survive. Given the longer-range format of the television medium, it seems like a perfect place to continue the franchise. The films are already quite low-budget and thus would integrate into the television format quite well, while an extended amount of time to examine the happenings during “The Purge” would allow for more nuanced storytelling and a deeper examination of the series sociopolitical themes to balance out the violence, elevating the overall franchise in its level of sophistication. Emmy-Winning Director Anthony Hemingway of The People v. OJ Simpson fame has been tapped to direct the pilot, so it looks as though Blum and company are off to a strong start. Even if The First Purge cannot reach the heights of the previous entries, the producing team and Universal’s marketing department have still done a very good job of positioning the film to satisfy fans of the franchise as well as use it as a potential launch pad for the upcoming series.
(Box Office data taken from BoxOfficceMojo.com, Deadline.com, and the Hollywood Reporter)