The Popcorn Periodical
“IT” Floats to the Top of the Box Office as Highest-Grossing Horror Movie of All Time
2017 has been both an exciting and lacklustre year for major motion pictures. At the end of August, box office sales were the lowest they’ve been since the week following September 11, 2001. This summer, theatres offered moviegoers discounted Tuesday prices until Labour Day. Horror movies in particular were released few and far between in 2017, with February’s Get Out being the only major horror release until August’s Annabelle: Creation. Both films topped the box office, but neither held a flame – or should I say balloon – to the big screen debut of Stephen King’s terrifying 1986 novel, IT.
IT has floated past the $200 million mark in worldwide sales in just one week, popping records like balloons. It was the biggest box-office opening for a horror movie in September, the biggest opening weekend for a horror movie in North America ($123 million), the biggest weekend (Monday and Tuesday gross) in September, the biggest Monday gross for an R-rated horror movie, the third-largest opening weekend of 2017, and the highest-grossing Stephen King movie of all time. Only Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 banked more on opening weekend this year. Considering this film cost Warner Bros. Studios a solid $35 million to make, ITs achievements are quite impressive.
Rookie Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) had his work cut out for him when tackling this monstrous adaptation. Both the 1986 book and the 1990 movie rest as horror gold, but when the horrifying trailer dropped in March of this year, IT had more than just fans going cuckoo for Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The New Line Cinema trailer starring Bill Skarsgård (Atomic Blonde, Hemlock Grove) broke the record for most watched trailer online in a single day, with 197 million views topping the previous record of 139 million views set by Universal’s The Fate of the Furious, this past December.
In the summer of 2016, however, once it was announced that IT began filming both in and around Toronto, Ontario, Canada – cinematic highlights include the Losers cliff diving at Elora Quarry and the quaint Ontarian area of Port Hope dressed up as the town of Derry – North America saw a surge of random clown sightings popping up all over the internet. Uploaded home videos on several different social media outlets pictured scary clowns standing on the side of roads or walking alone in the woods. As these videos circulated and made headlines, killer clowns became a popular Halloween costume again, and though the random clown sightings faded on the internet (brilliant marketing scheme?) the Hollywood exploration of people’s irrational fear of clowns (coulrophobia) did the opposite.
This year, just two days before the worldwide release of IT, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s seventh season of American Horror Story: Cult debuted, centering around a small community in Michigan plagued by a cult of killer clowns after the 2016 election. Some could even argue that the United States elected a clown! If you suffer from coulrophobia, now isn’t the best time to turn on the television or go to the movies.
IT centers around seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, who are about to face their worst nightmare – an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. The original story takes place in the 1950’s, but in this new film, 1988 happens to be their lucky year.
Fans are familiar with the story, but it’s worth mentioning that the big screen return of IT marks 27 years since the TV movie aired in 1990, which is also the birth year of Bill Skarsgård, the 27 year old actor who plays Pennywise. Creeeepy…
Even still, one of the biggest concerns people have about this 2017 remake is how true to the origin story IT is. Considering how many Hollywood remakes have so desperately attempted and failed, Andy Muschietti’s IT manages to magnificently retell a classic, kid-centered horror story in a new and frightening yet nostalgic way.
Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show) played the original Pennywise and it would seem redundant to want to try and revamp that classic clown portrayal. Everyone wondered who would play the maniacal clown in the remake and how good of a job they’d do considering how classic of a horror character Pennywise is.
Now, Bill Skarsgård is the new Pennywise on the block. The son of actor Stellan Skarsgård (The Hunt For Red October, Good Will Hunting), and brother of actor Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Tarzan), the Skarsgårds helm from Stockholm, Sweden. Bill was born into this talented family of actors and with the success of IT, Bill is making his international mark.
Skarsgård as Pennywise is taller than he was in 1990. His makeup and hair are similar to that of Tim Curry’s rendition but the 2017 clown suit is more fitted and regal, like a jester. Many critics questioned the use of CGI, since the original was so campy and heavy on special effects makeup, but the director did a great job in fitting the computer graphics into the overall feel of this movie. Every scene Pennywise was in made audiences feel something. His presence was always met with suspense and every scene IT was in ended in a “what the hell was that?!” moment.
When IT is confronted by The Losers Club in the sewer towards the end of the film, we see a twisted and somewhat comical side to Pennywise as he dances in furious flames and charges at Beverly Marsh (one of the Losers). IT psychotically laughs in her face in a scene that reminded me more of Jim Carrey in How The Grinch Stole Christmas than anything else, but the violent, thrashing, crazed clown manages to outweigh any corny attributes with campy finesse, and Pennywise is an instant classic horror character all over again!
The main characters in King’s tale are the Stand By Me-esque clan of pre-teens known as The Losers Club: Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lienberher), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sofia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jake Dylan Grazer) and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff). Every Loser has a personal story and it’s their struggles that ultimately connect them.
They experience a sense of guilt, doubt, loss and of course, fear. They must learn to overcome these hindrances to not only defeat the ancient evil known as IT, but to squash their inner demons, as well. The more you look into each character, the more you can see how layered they are. Their fears are what deems them weak in the eyes of IT to begin with, but what makes the Losers different also gives them strength.
In the opening scene, we see Bill Denbrough and his younger brother, Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), making a paper boat in Bill’s room. His walls are decorated with Beetlejuice and Gremlins posters, a sign of the times, but this movie has so many “Easter Eggs,” these posters could also represent Bill Denbrough’s career path as he grows up to be a horror writer, like so many other Stephen King’s protagonists. It makes sense that Bill would’ve liked horror movies as a kid. Ones suitable for his age, anyway. Subtle nods like Bill’s movie posters make IT a nostalgic experience for anyone who remembers the ‘80s. Look out for Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, A Nightmare On Elm Street, New Kids On The Block and Molly Ringwald references, too.
Georgie loses the paper boat in the sewer and we’re introduced to the drooling reincarnation of Pennywise, as we knew we would be. The scene is familiar – from the trailer as well as its preceding movie and book – and this reimagining is just as bone-chilling. For the first time on-screen, we get to see what happens to Georgie as it plays out in the book, where IT bites Georgie’s arm off, pulling him into the depths of the sewer. The film’s score is brilliant in this first scene and it echoes throughout the entire film, conducting the viewer’s senses to anticipate a most horrifying evil. Very well done.
Time goes by and children continue to go missing. Derry instills a curfew and viewers begin to see how and why each Loser suffers. At first, their only mutual enemy resides within a gang of school bullies: Belch Huggins (Jake Sim), Victor Kriss (Logan Thompson), Patrick Hocksetter (Owen Teague), and the psychotic son of the Derry Police chief, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton).
The gang literally terrorizes the Losers, beating them up during and after school, spreading lies and rumours about them… They even chase (and hold down) the new kid, Ben Hanscom, as Henry Bowers carves his initial “H” into his belly with a knife. Very cruel antagonists, they are. It’s not until one of the bullies goes missing and the Losers find a schoolmates shoe that they realize there truly is something evil lurking in the sewers. One by one, the Losers are singled out and taunted as IT takes the form of their worst fear and tries to scare them into submission.
‘You’’ll float too! You’ll float too! You’ll float too!”
“I saw something,” Ben says to the rest of the Losers, “a clown,” Eddie finishes. “Yeah, I saw him too,” he admits, and we know what’s to come. The Losers have to band together, like they did against the bullies halfway through the film in an epic rock fight. By standing up to Henry and his goons, they realise they are stronger when they band together. If there was any chance of ever seeing Bill’s little brother Georgie (or any of the other missing children for that matter) again, they’re going to have to face their fears. Before they go missing, too.
Ben does some research of his own as he and his family move a lot, but when Ben looked into the checkered past of Derry (and gets a fright of his own in the local library), he shares it with the rest of the Losers:
“Derry is not like any town I’ve ever been in before,” he says. “People die here – six times the national average. And that’s just grown ups,” Ben shares, “kids are worse.” This information startles the rest of the Losers and together they discover where the evil entity resides. The witch-hunt for Pennywise ensues and audiences are taken into a haunted house full of fright. Unsuccessful and full of apprehension, the Losers retreat, and it’s not until Beverly Marsh goes missing that the Losers band together, once again, determined to save Beverly and terminate IT. Or do they?
In the original story, Henry Bowers is blamed for the missing children and he still plays a pivotal role in the story 27 years later. In the end of this new film, though, we’re led to believe we’ve seen the last of Henry. Towards the end of the film, Henry is under IT’s influence and he unsuccessfully attacks the Losers in an attempt to stop them from hunting down IT. Mike Hanlon is the one who fights Henry off for good, and what’s vindicating about this scene is that, in the book, Henry Bowers and his father spew systemic hatred and racist expletives at Mike Hanlon because he is black. We see Mike singled out by Henry Bowers and his gang of bullies in this movie adaptation, but it’s never eluded to racism. Still, it’s a liberating to see Mike Hanlon be the one to put an end Henry Bowers’ terrorism.
The Losers might be outcasts, but much more, they’re fortifying heroes. They’re a group of underdogs fighting against something they cannot control or even understand, like in Stranger Things or E.T. Because when you’re a kid, you often think the world is out to get you, and no adult is going to believe you when you say a scary painting came to life and chased you down the hallway or a demonic clown flooded the basement and charged at you. IT can only be seen by those it chooses to be seen by, which makes it even more difficult for the Losers to seek outside help. They are left to battle this murderous evil on their own and that gives the film an underdog team spirit everyone’s inner kid will relish in.
IT delivers genuine laughs, touching tears and all the screams necessary to encompass both the 1990 made-for-TV movie as well as the bestselling novel. Richie’s character (played by Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things) delivers the film’s most side-splitting one-liners; it’s refreshing to see this movie shapeshift genres, making IT so much more than your average horror movie filled with blood, sex, bad acting and cheap scares. IT‘s an ode to the 1980’s as well as young adult coming-of-age movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies and Now & Then, but with a campy twist of horrors that keeps audiences engaged from beginning to end.
IT even manages to identify as an 80’s movie without being filmed in the 80’s, and just like the original movie lured children into watching, this seemingly overprotected R-rating is a temporary blockade for pre-teens everywhere. Besides the crude language, there really isn’t enough blood and terror to certify a restricted rating; kids are going to want to see this movie starring their peers and a whole new generation of youngsters are about to fear the infamous dancing clown known as Pennywise all over again. History repeats itself, right?
One of the most exciting aspects of this remake is that unlike the 1990 version where the entire book is adapted, this movie ends with an open-ended “Chapter One” finale, insinuating a sequel. As the story goes, Mike Hanlon calls The Losers Club back to Derry, 27 years later, to finish IT off once and for all. Warner Bros. Studios has yet to announce a sequel but all signs point towards another IT movie, especially with half of the story left untold (not to mention how well IT’s doing at the box office).
Whether you find this film to be terrifying, fun or overrated, one thing’s for sure…
They don’t make movies like IT anymore.
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About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.