American audiences anxiously packed into theaters about 17 years ago today unsure of what exactly they were about to see.
All they knew was three 20-something adults had recently ventured into a mysterious Maryland forest filming some kind of documentary, but they never returned from their journey alive. And all that remained of them was the raw footage they shot on their cameras, which someone recovered and turned into what ultimately amounted to the world’s most popular faux snuff film. Oh, and there was something in there about a witch too.
That was the somewhat ridiculous premise behind the original Blair Witch Project, one of the most influential cult films in Hollywood history, which hit theaters on July 16, 1999.
Another sequel to the original horror classic will open nationwide in about two weeks.
The first Blair Witch’s impact on Hollywood reverberates to this day. In an age where big budget box office films are an even bigger risk than they were in the late 1990s, horror films like the recently-released Don’t Breathe are the movie industry’s surest bet to turn a tidy profit (Reuters reports Don’t Breathe raked in an estimated $19.4 million its second weekend), but Blair Witch-style found-footage films like Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise have been even safer bets.
Consider this. Disney’s (DIS) latest Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, made more than $2 billion worldwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo. In comparison, the original Blair Witch only made a paltry $248.6 million, according to the same site, but since Haxon Films only spent an estimated $60,000 to make Blair Witch, that $248.6 million was almost all profit.
Without adjusting for inflation, the return on investment for the latest Star Wars was an impressive 744.17%, but for the original Blair Witch it was a whopping 414,398.5%. That kind of return got Hollywood’s attention 17 years ago, spawning one terrible sequel and such an unending slew of Blair Witch-inspired horror flicks it became its own genre.
Now Lionsgate studio execs are hoping the name Blair Witch still has enough box office magic for its remake to make bank in one of the worst summer movie seasons for Hollywood in recent memory. They’ve even launched the same kind of viral video marketing strategy that propelled the first Blair Witch to a second place opening weekend finish behind the forgettable Runaway Bride.
The new Blair Witch hits theaters Sept. 16.