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Ghosts, witches, zombies: which supernatural creature makes the most money at the box office?

Without Twilight, vampires wouldn’t be the most popular movie monster.

A promotional image from the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.
Columbia Pictures/IMDB
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

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

A still from Benicio Del Toro’s 2010 film The Wolfman.

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

Total: $118,939,362

6) Mummies: $540,124,944

The mummy in The Mummy.
Universal Pictures/IMDB

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

Total: $540,124,944

5) Witches: $908,027,208

A still from 2016’s The Love Witch.

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

Total: $908,027,208

4) Zombies: $1,029,203,471

A still from Zombieland.

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

Total: $1,029,203,471

3) Ghosts: $1,261,544,117

In The Ring, Samara’s ghost crawls out of a TV.

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

Total: $1,261,544,117

2) Demons: $1,614,310,350

A still from 2018’s The Nun.
Warner Bros./IMDB

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

Total: $1,614,310,350

1) Vampires: $2,080,884,017

A still from Twilight.

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

Total: $2,080,884,017

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.

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