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SYFY WIRE The Wretched

Indie horror film 'The Wretched' has quietly topped the box office for weeks thanks to drive-in theaters

By Matthew Jackson
The Wretched

Had things gone according to plan, the box-office charts would be topped by the ninth Fast & Furious film right about now, with the comic book juggernaut Wonder Woman 1984 looming on the horizon. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic means that things very much did not go according to plan at the movies this year, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to see at a theater right now. In the era of social distancing, drive-ins are becoming a viable alternative for many moviegoers, and on the strength of that trend an indie horror film has quietly been the box-office king for a while now.

IFC Films' The Wretched, about a young man who moves to live with his father amid a divorce and finds a horrifying supernatural threat lurking around his new home, has ruled the admittedly sparse box-office charts for the last five weeks, a feat equalled in recent years by major blockbusters like TitanicThe Sixth SenseAvatar, and Black Panther. Under normal circumstances, a film has to rise to the level of worldwide phenomenon to command the top of the box office for that long, but these are not normal circumstances. As moviegoers hungry for a theatrical experience have flocked to a few dozen drive-ins around the United States, The Wretched has provided a welcome, old-fashioned horror escape. 

According to Forbes' Scott Mendelson, the film took in $181,000 last weekend across 75 screens, and that number actually marks its first decline in weekend box-office takes since it debuted on just a dozen screens back on May 1. Over Memorial Day weekend, the film took in nearly a quarter of a million dollars, and its overall total is now north of $800,000. That would be a pretty solid number for an indie horror release even if it weren't coming out amid a pandemic, but it feels especially impressive right now. 

For their part, IFC has been happy to lean into the drive-in nostalgia of it all.

“We pivoted the marketing in cool retro drive-in ads. That was a fun way to get the word out,” Arianna Bocco, the executive VP of acquisitions and production at IFC Films, told Variety. “A lot of it has been through organic word of mouth because it affects the people who live there.”

It'll be interesting to keep watching The Wretched and see how long it can sustain its No. 1 status, particularly since major releases are continuing to hold off at least through June. If it can top the box office next weekend, it'll join an elite group of just 15 films over the past four decades that have managed to hold the top spot for six consecutive weeks. The current record holder for most consecutive weeks atop the box office? E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, with 16 weeks. If current plans remain in place, major releases — including Christopher Nolan's Tenet — will rise up to challenge The Wretched by July, but it remains unclear if that plan will go forward.

For now, if you're itching for a drive-in experience and you love horror, consider checking out the number one movie in America. 

This story presents some humorous responses to coronavirus, but COVID-19 is very real! Please exercise caution out there: Wash those hands, stay at home, and practice social distancing. For extensive information on how to keep you and your loved ones safe, check out the CDC’s coronavirus website.