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If somebody attempted to do an actual power ranking of all the most popular supernatural creatures, well, that would be stupid, because obviously witches would win. They can do literal magic, and even if the calculations weren’t in their favor they could just like, put a spell on the person doing the math.
But unfortunately, there is no actual way to “do the math” on supernatural beings, because they are not real. What we can do, however, is attempt to determine how much power each of them wield in our cultural consciousness.
To do so, I calculated how much money every major movie about Halloween-y creatures made between 1999 and the present. Why 1999? First of all, it’s almost exactly 20 years ago, which means that it encompasses nearly an entire generation’s worth of taste in film. It also has the benefit of freeing me from comparing the cultural importance of the films from Universal’s genre-defining Classic Monsters era (the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, et al) with, say, Nicolas Cage’s witch movie from 2011.
There is also the fact that 1999 happened to be a pretty major year for movies and franchises involving otherworldly beings. The Mummy, The Blair Witch Project, and The Sixth Sense all premiered that year, providing major wins for mummies, witches, and ghosts, respectively.
So without further ado, here’s each of the most popular supernatural creatures, ranked by how much money the movies about them made. An important asterisk here is that films in which multiple kinds of beings play major roles will not be included, which is why you won’t find Harry Potter, Hotel Transylvania, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Dark Shadows, and the like. (Plus, those are relatively lighthearted anyway, and it’s Halloween!)
Another important asterisk is that the differences between categories, like ghosts and demons, can sometimes be nebulous, and so if you are particularly riled up about any of these categorizations, please remind yourself that, once again, it’s Halloween.
The following numbers are made up of a film’s domestic gross only, are not adjusted for inflation, and were pulled from the IMDb-owned Box Office Mojo.
7) Werewolves: $118,939,362
Poor werewolves. In 20 years, there were only three major movies that featured the creatures prominently, and none of them really made all that much money. And even though Twilight technically stars a shape-shifting werewolf-like teenager, let’s be honest: It’s a vampire movie.
The Wolfman (2010): $61,979,680
Red Riding Hood (2011): $37,662,160
Cursed (2005): $19,297,522
6) Mummies: $540,124,944
The Mummy franchise is doing literally all the work here, although a special shoutout to Tom Cruise’s 2017 remake, whose domestic flop Vanity Fair attributes to Cruise’s “vise grip” of control.
The Mummy Returns (2001): $202,019,785
The Mummy (1999): $155,385,488
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008): $102,491,776
The Mummy (2017): $80,227,895
5) Witches: $908,027,208
Had we included the Harry Potter franchise here, which at a domestic gross of $2,391,805,822 easily eclipses every other category all by itself, witches would have made it out on top. But despite the fact that they’re easily the coolest of the bunch, the other witch-centric movies of the last generation didn’t quite make the magic happen.
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013): $234,911,825
The Blair Witch Project franchise (1999- 2016): $187,753,254
The Conjuring (2013): $137,400,141
Into the Woods (2014): $128,002,372
Bewitched (2005): $63,313,159
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013): $55,703,475
The Last Witch Hunter (2015): $27,367,660
The Witch (2015): $25,138,705
Season of the Witch (2011): $24,827,228
The Covenant (2006): $23,380,495
The Love Witch (2016): $228,894
4) Zombies: $1,029,203,471
I’ll be honest, I’m a little shocked zombies didn’t do better here. Even after their mid-2000s heyday, zombie movies just kept respawning well into the 2010s. As the BBC argues, their popularity tends to spike in uncertain times: “Zombies embody the great contemporary fear — and, for some people, the great contemporary fantasy — that we’ll soon be surrounded by ravenous strangers, with only a shotgun to defend ourselves. Compared to that, facing a werewolf or a vampire is a breeze.”
Resident Evil franchise (2002-2017): $271,274,006
I Am Legend (2007): $256,393,010
World War Z (2013): $202,359,711
Zombieland (2009): $75,590,286
Warm Bodies (2013): $66,380,662
Dawn of the Dead (2004): $59,020,957
28 Days Later (2002): $45,064,915
28 Weeks Later (2007): $28,638,916
Shaun of the Dead (2004): 13,542,874
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2017): $10,938,134
3) Ghosts: $1,261,544,117
Ghost movies are fun because there are a zillion different ways to do them — which is likely why there has simply been so many of them. But the one thing that unites them is that one point or another, somebody in the movie has probably had the thought, “I see dead people.” Here, a “ghost” is defined as the spirit of a specific dead person, which separates it from a demon.
The Sixth Sense (1999): $293,506,292
The Ring (2002): $233,152,400
What Lies Beneath (2000): $155,464,351
Ghostbusters (2016) : $128,350,574
The Grudge (2004): $110,359,362
The Others (2001): $96,522,687
Gothika (2003): $59,694,580
Thirteen Ghosts (2001): $41,867,960
House on Haunted Hill (1999): $40,846,082
Ghost Ship (2002): $30,113,491
Shutter (2008): $25,928,550
Dark Water (2005): $25,473,352
Pulse (2006): $20,264,436
2) Demons: $1,614,310,350
There can be some blurriness between what constitutes a demon versus a ghost, but in most cases, a demon is capable of possessing humans, can usually shape-shift, and often come alongside some religious connotations. Films involving the devil are also included in this category.
Paranormal Activity franchise (2009-2015): $401,363,355
Insidious franchise (2010-2018): $257,374,845
The Nun (2018): $116,745,963
This Is the End (2013): $101,470,202
Constantine (2005): $75,976,178
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005): $75,072,454
The Amityville Horror (2005): $65,233,369
The Devil Inside (2012): $53,261,944
Ouija (2014): $50,856,010
The Possession (2012): $49,130,154
Sinister (2012): $48,086,903
Hereditary (2018): $44,069,456
Drag Me To Hell (2009): $42,100,625
Exorcist: The Beginning (2004): $41,821,986
Little Nicky (2000): $39,464,775
Bedazzled (2000): $37,886,980
Devil (2010): $33,601,190
The Rite (2011): $33,047,633
Deliver Us From Evil (2014): $30,577,122
Jennifer’s Body (2009): $16,204,793
The Babadook (2014): $964,413
1) Vampires: $2,080,884,017
To literally nobody’s surprise, vampires have made the most money at US box offices over the past 20 years. This is, of course, solely due to the popularity of Twilight, the YA saga responsible for thousands of sexual awakenings of both its target tween readership and the adult fans of the unauthorized NSFW 50 Shades of Grey, originally written as a Twilight fanfic.
Twilight franchise (2008-2012): $1,365,922,346
Underworld franchise (2003-2016): $252,766,892
Van Helsing (2004): $120,177,084
Blade II (2002): $82,348,319
Blade Trinity (2004): $52,411,906
30 Days of Night (2007): $39,568,996
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012): $37,519,139
Dracula 2000 (2000): $33,022,767
Daybreakers (2009): $30,101,577
Priest (2011): $29,136,626
Fright Night (2011): $18,302,607
Let Me In (2010): $12,134,935
What We Do In the Shadows (2014): $3,469,224
Let the Right One In (2008): $2,122,065
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013): 1,879,534
So yes, vampires made a lot of money over the past 20 years, but if we remove the Twilight factor, they’d be somewhere way down between mummies and witches in terms of box office revenue. That means that it’s actually demons and ghosts that have managed to have the most consistent and lasting impact on movie ticket sales.
Supernatural creatures are embodiments of the things we fear or don’t understand, and they rise and fall in trendiness just as any other pop culture phenomenon. The ones that don’t seem to ever go out of style, however, happen to be the ones that many people actually believe in: ghosts and demons.
One 2013 study by HuffPost and YouGov showed that about 45 percent of Americans believed in ghosts, while nearly one in five US adults say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost, according to Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, in a Public Policy Polling survey from 2012, 57 percent of respondents said it was possible for humans to be possessed by demons, and a 2016 Gallop poll also shows that 61 percent of Americans believe in the devil.
As a 2016 piece by Vox’s Aja Romano pointed out, trends in horror movies tend to reflect the cultural fears at the time. That year, home invasion movies were popular, a genre that’s often aimed at white Americans and can be an allegory for xenophobia. Considering the fact that immigration was one of the 2016 election’s most contentious topics, it’s not exactly difficult to see the connection there.
Ghosts and demons, on the other hand? These will be stoking fears for about as long as their average lifespan — which is to say, for eternity.