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10 Biggest Horror Flops of the ‘70s at the Box Office

10 Biggest Horror Flops of the ‘70s at the Box Office

Hollywood experienced a massive shift in the late sixties and throughout the seventies. Filmmakers and studios were less constrained by societal taboos and began taking more risks than ever before. With that came a slew of massive successes that changed their respective genres. In the horror space, the ’70s served the world classics like Jaws (1975), The Exorcist (1973), and Alien (1979) on a gory platter.

But, of course, not all films can be winners. While we have extreme horror successes like the aforementioned films that soared at the box office, others barely hopped off the ground. These projects could’ve been panned before they had a really got a chance to take off, been to graphic even for the more liberal ’70s, received little to no marketing, or been downright bad films. Whatever the case may be, continue reading to learn about some of the biggest horror movie flops from the ’70s.

10 Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Budget – $1.3 million, Box Office – ~$250,000, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%,

Phantom of the Paradise Movie Poster

Phantom of the Paradise is a 1974 film that blends the musical, comedy, and horror genres. Winslow Leach is a musician who believes he’s got his big break when a producer hears him play and is impressed with his talent. This producer, named Swan, betrays Winslow by stealing his music. Winslow decides to disguise himself and sabotage the new concert hall Swan is trying to get off the ground.

The Wrong Timing

This film takes inspiration from several classic works, such as The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Faustian bargains. It was directed by Brian De Palma, who worked on massive successes like Carrie, Scarface, and Mission: Impossible. Unfortunately, this film failed to find its audience in its initial release. The humorous tone simply didn’t connect with people in the seventies, though it managed to secure great appreciation in recent years.

9 Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Budget – $250,000, Box Office – ~$47,000, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death follows a woman named Jessica who was recently discharged from a mental institution. Her husband Duncan gave up his career to care for Jessica and the two travel to a farmhouse he purchased for a restart. It’s there they meet a strange woman squatting in their new home. Knowing what it feels like to be alone and misunderstood, Jessica invites the woman to stay over, an invitation she may soon wish to rescind.

Low Bar & Still Missed

A lot of the tension and fear this film relied on fell on the protagonist’s mental state. Are her fears about this strange woman unfounded or true? Yet this proved not to be enough for most moviegoers, as it failed to earn back its already small budget.

Common criticisms cite the acting, one-dimensional characters, and unimaginative cinematography. Granted, nobody expected this film to do insane numbers, but not cracking $50,000 in its first week was far worse than anyone imagined. Stream on Pluto TV.

Related: 15 Low-Budget Movies That Ended Up Making Millions

8 The Swarm (1978)

Budget – $11.5 million, Box Office – $5 million, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 9%

The Swarm

Those with melissophobia (fear of bees) may need to skip over The Swarm. This 1978 horror flick takes place in Texas and kicks off showing a military unit attacked. Dr. Bradford Crane is a scientist who’s been tracking the path of a huge flock of killer bees. As the bees continue to attack others, sometimes fatally, Crane and military officials are on a time crunch to put an end to this nightmare.

Is This a Joke?

The Swarm got panned by movie critics and lay moviegoers alike. Objectively, getting attacked by a mass of bees would be quite scary, but on the big screen, it came across as rather silly. The scene of townspeople fleeing while the bees swarm overhead is so overacted that it comes across as a parody. Not even the big names attached to this film could garner much interest for the film as it eked out less than half of its budget at the box office.

7 The Stepford Wives (1975)

Budget – Unknown, Box Office – $4 million, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%

The Stepford Wives is a psychological horror book-to-screen adaptation of a novel written by Ira Levin. Joanna Eberhart and her family (consisting of a husband and two kids) move from Manhattan to Stepford, Connecticut. The women in town immediately strike Joanna as odd. Though they look perfect, they also are void of interests, personality, and bow to their husbands’ commands.

A Premise Not Fit for Theaters?

While the exact budget for The Stepford Wives is unknown, it’s clear that it fell way short of predictions. It earned just $4 million at the box office. However, this film is yet another that took time to find the right audience.

While valid critiques remain, the concept of a “Stepford wife” has become its own term and modern critics love to analyze its themes. Still, this concept and theatrical releases are like oil and water. In 2004, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, and Bette Midler starred in a remake and it also floundered at the box office. Stream on Tubi.

Related: They’re All Going to Laugh at You: A Closer Look at Women in 70s Horror

6 Black Christmas (1974)

Budget – ~$685,000, Box Office – ~$425,000, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%

Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas revolves around the inhabitants of a sorority house who are terrorized by a killer. Jess Bradford and her sorority sisters are throwing a holiday party when she answers a call. She believes it’s another prank call, but the situation turns dire when the caller threatens to kill everyone. Freaky as it may be, none of the ladies know that a strange man has entered the house and is hiding in their attic.

Too Close to Reality

Horror films set during Christmas can be great fun. The terror mixed with the otherwise cheery atmosphere is jarring in the best possible way. Yet it didn’t connect with audiences. The film went through a few title changes and still failed to reach the numerical goal the studio wished for.

It couldn’t catch a break when it went to television either, as Ted Bundy targeted a sorority house during his killing spree a few weeks prior. Now, horror fans applaud Black Christmas for its contribution to the teen slasher genre despite its meager earnings.

5 Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Budget – $14 million, Box Office – $30.7 million, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%


Exorcist II: The Heretic is the follow-up to the wildly successful supernatural horror movie The Exorcist. Four years after the events of the first film, priest Phillip Lamont tries to exorcise a woman and it goes terribly wrong, resulting in a fire and the woman’s death. Now, he is sent to investigate the death of a priest accused of heresy and the young girl thought to be possessed by a powerful demon.

A Nosedive in Earnings

At first glance, Exorcist II: The Heretic doesn’t appear to be a massive failure. Clocking in $30.7 million at the box office against a $14 million budget isn’t a huge success, but not the worst-case scenario. Except when you take into account the numbers of the first film. The predecessor also had a relatively low budget of $12 million yet raked in over $400 million. Nobody expected such a huge drop-off. Likewise, fans believed The Heretic to be a huge drop-off in quality.

Related: Exorcist II: The Heretic: Is This Still the Worst Sequel of All Time?

4 The Wicker Man (1973)

Budget – ~$500,000, Box Office – ~$475,000, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

the wicker man

Sergeant Neil Howie in The Wicker Man boards a plane from England to an isolated Scottish island called Summerisle. His mission is to gather information about a missing girl. When Howie arrives, he’s stunned to see the citizens of Summerisle practice Celtic paganism, especially considering his own staunch Christianity. Adults and children alike engage in peculiar behaviors and some claim the missing girl never existed.

If horror fans want a movie that doesn’t rely on bloody scenes to frighten viewers, The Wicker Man is waiting to be streamed. The exact box office gross of this film varies across sources, though most place it around $475k-$500k. A low figure considering how critically well-received it was. In following years, filmmakers on both sides of the pond have attempted to remake The Wicker Man or create a sequel, none of which have done particularly well.

3 Full Circle/The Haunting of Julia (1977)

Budget – ~$1 million, Box Office – Unknown, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%

Full Circle (or The Haunting of Julia in the States) is a supernatural horror movie based on a novel by Peter Straub. Julia Lofting is an American living in London when her daughter Kate begins choking. Julia tries to save her but ends up killing her instead. After this tragedy, Julia’s life falls apart. She separates from her husband and begins renting a new place to live. In this new home, she finds a child’s belongings and is haunted by a childlike ghost.

Pretend It Didn’t Happen

The production company behind Full Circle has done its best to bury precise box-office numbers. However, by all accounts both contemporary and from the past, this movie failed. According to an article published in Oxford Academic, the box office in the U.K. and North America respectively were “poor” and “made little-to-no impact.” Even with actress Mia Farrow in the lead role, many found the script too predictable to be worth a trip to the theaters.

Related: Mia Farrow’s Best Performances, Ranked

2 The Manitou (1978)

Budget – $3 million, Box Office – $1.5 million, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%

The Manitou is another novel adaptation, this time centering on a woman named Karen Tandy. Karen heads to the doctor concerned about an abnormal growth on her neck. To her surprise and that of the medical staff, it turns out the “tumor” is a fetus. She opts to get it removed, but then Karen begins speaking words associated with dark magic and the ill effects are spreading to those around her.

A Niche Film

Body horror isn’t for everyone, and neither was this movie. The box office total hovered around $1.5 million. Unfortunately, a lot of bad luck followed this film. Before its release, writer and director William Girdler passed away in a helicopter crash. Today, a small but mighty cohort rallies around The Manitou‘s weirdness though it remains relatively niche. Stream on Shout TV.

1 The Sentinel (1977)

Budget – $3.5 million, Box Office – $4 million, Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%

In The Sentinel, a young model moves to New York, but this isn’t a picture-perfect transition. Brooklyn has several historic brownstones and Allison Parker is about to settle into one. Right away Allison has trouble falling asleep, becomes faint, and hears sounds that shouldn’t exist. Her rental agent claims only one other person lives in the building, a blind priest, but that can’t be true.

A-List Crowd, D-List Results

This movie pulled in a lot of big names, including iconic Old Hollywood actress Ava Gardner in one of her last film roles and John Carradine. Chris Sarandon was also a prominent cast member, though this was earlier in his career. The vintage brownstone setting in Brooklyn gave this horror movie a nice touch. However, The Sentinel barely earned over budget at the box office, a failure when accounting for marketing costs. Rent on Apple TV.

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