The news that the release date of 2023’s Salem’s Lot remake has been moved forward by six months could be bad for the Stephen King remake if the blockbuster box office performance of It is any metric to go by. Stephen King’s It was always intended to be a major release, but the scale of the 2017 R-rated horror’s box office success still shocked many industry commentators. It‘s $700 million haul proved that adult horror movies could be major box office successes, paving the way for It: Chapter 2 to earn an almost equally impressive $500 million.
However, It was Pennywise’s big-screen debut and not every Stephen King villain has fared as well with audiences as the iconic killer clown did. Flops like 2017’s The Dark Tower and 2019’s under-performing Doctor Sleep have since proven that King’s stories can be risky investments. The disastrous performance of 2022’s Firestarter remake with both critics and viewers creates further bad optics (though it should be noted that Firestarter was released simultaneously on Peacock during a Covid variant surge). These failures make the decision to move the release of Salem’s Lot from September 2022 until April 2023 all the more inscrutable.
A small-town horror story with an iconic miniseries adaption from 1978, Salem’s Lot has a lot in common with It. Both Stephen King novels were bestselling behemoths with extremely long, in-depth narratives. Both tell the tale of a small town whose people are unknowingly influenced by a supernatural threat, and both It’s classic King villain Pennywise and the antagonists of Salem’s Lot are unafraid of targeting innocent children. Thus, the fact that the Salem’s Lot remake that was originally slated for a September 2022 release has been pushed back to April 2023 could be bad news, judging by the timing of King’s recent releases. This will limit the remake’s ability to recreate the success of It, something that was already jeopardized by a string of recent King adaptation flops.
Salem’s Lot was originally set for release in September after Labor Day. The reasoning behind this release date was the outsized success of numerous other horror movies released during this period, including Salem’s Lot screenwriter Gary Dauberman’s It and It: Chapter 2. However, it was recently announced that Salem’s Lot would be delayed until April 21, 2023 “due to COVID-related delays in the post-production realm.” This is nothing new (2020’s Children of the Corn remake is still in development hell after completing production almost two years ago), but it is particularly bad news for the Stephen King remake because Salem’s Lot hoped to be a spiritual successor to It.
As the summer wanes and Halloween is around the corner, September is a perfect month for blockbuster horror releases. October is full of big-budget high-profile competition in the genre, whereas September is comparatively quiet—hence the huge haul that both It and It: Chapter 2 earned. Salem’s Lot had the added appeal of not only being a major horror release and a Stephen King adaptation but one that was similar in tone and theme to It’s two-part movie. Where It had Pennywise and the town of Derry, Salem’s Lot has Kurt Barlow and the titular town of Jerusalem’s Lot. Where It: Chapter 2 saw the Losers Club return to their hometown to uproot a generations-old evil, Salem’s Lot saw its hero come back to his hometown to find out an ancient monster has taken root there.
In the time since It and It: Chapter 2 performed so well, the box office hasn’t been as kind to King. Firestarter (released in mid-May 2022) flopped terribly, while 2020’s Children of the Corn has still not been given a proper release. Firestarter’s failure at the box office came after the underperformance of Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining whose November 2019 box office failure was a considerable disappointment. Without any major success stories in the author’s recent big-screen adaptations, Salem’s Lot will have a harder time inspiring confidence, all the more compromised by losing its September release date. An April release (while not quite the kiss of death that January horror release dates are) is certainly a step back, but it may still be possible for Salem’s Lot to succeed.
Another remake of an early cult hit from King’s oeuvre, 2019’s flawed Pet Sematary remake, earned over $100 million on a budget of $20 million despite coming out in March, meaning all hope is not lost for the new Salem’s Lot. Like the same year’s It: Chapter 2, Pet Sematary’s financial success was marred by the movie’s weak performance with reviewers who felt the remake failed to recreate the dark humor and offbeat tone of Mary Lambert’s 1989 original. However, in purely financial terms, Pet Sematary was undeniably a hit and Salem’s Lot will arrive only a little later than that unexpected success made it to theaters.
More than the remake’s release date, the unspoken element that will decide whether Salem’s Lot succeeds or fails has nothing to do with King’s historical box office performance. As a small-town vampire horror, Salem’s Lot will likely live or die not via its association with the horror writer’s brand but instead based on the interest (or lack of interest) that viewers have in seeing this specific sort of horror onscreen. If Salem’s Lot focuses less on the movie’s Stephen King connection and nostalgia for the original miniseries and instead highlights the movie’s attempts to bring back vampires as a serious, R-rated horror villain, the adaptation may still prove to be an It-sized success upon its belated release.
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