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With ‘Split,’ Horror and M. Night Shyamalan Remain Box Office Draws

The North American box office received a major boost this weekend from a pair of reliable sources: the horror genre and M. Night Shyamalan with “Split,” his 12th film.

Overall moviegoing jumped 29 percent to $148 million this weekend, led by a surprisingly strong $40.2 million debut for “Split.” Universal’s forecasts before the weekend had been in the $20 million range for “Split.”

Year-to-date business, which had been lagging by 8.8 percent before the weekend, has reached $748 million and is now only 4 percent behind the same point last year when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was driving business.

“This really kicks off 2017 in earnest, which I didn’t think would happen until ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ on Feb. 10,” noted Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “There were a lot of distractions such as Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and the women’s marches on Saturday, so the number for ‘Split’ is very impressive.”

“Split,” produced, directed, and written by Shyamalan for under $10 million, stars James McAvoy in a well-reviewed tale of a man with 24 personalities who imprisons three young women. Shyamalan re-teamed with Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions, two years after they collaborated on “The Visit,” which grossed nearly $100 million on a $5 million budget.

Blumhouse has been the home to low-cost horror franchises such as “The Purge,” “Insidious,” “Paranormal Activity,” and “Ouija.” Shyamalan’s top grosser is his 1999 breakout “The Sixth Sense,” which topped $670 million worldwide, and his track record includes such solid performers as “Signs” and disappointments such as “After Earth” and “Lady in the Water.”

Dergarabedian said that Blum’s ability to keep costs down, Shyamalan’s narrative skills, and McAvoy’s performance in “Split” are a perfect combination.

“It’s sort of brainy horror films that are pure escapism and great date movies,” he added. “That genre has been around for so long that it’s sort of infused in the DNA of moviegoers.”

Horror continues to generate solid box office numbers at a reasonable cost for studios. Recent successes include Universal’s “The Purge: Election Year”; New Line’s “Lights Out” and its two “Conjuring” movies, which both grossed $320 million worldwide; Screen Gems’ “Don’t Breathe”; and Paramount’s “10 Cloverfield Lane.”

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