Warning: This posts contains vague-ish spoilers for the horror hit Barbarian. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s best if you go in knowing as little as possible. That said, again, the spoilers contained within are on the vague side.
The box office hasn’t exactly been on fire in weeks, but it has had one genuinely sleeper/word-of-mouth hit: Barbarian, a genuinely original horror film that has both thrilled and amused moviegoers to the tune of (as of this writing) $33 million. A non-IP original with a tricky logline that isn’t afraid to be unlike anything else — sounds like one of those A24 pictures, like The Witch or Midsommar, doesn’t it? Well, as it happens, in this case, when the project was presented to them, the indie studio made like everyone else in Hollywood and passed.
A new piece by Vulture (as caught by The AV Club) breaks down the convoluted story of how this little indie horror that could somehow wound up being distributed by…Disney? It’s an incredibly byzantine story, but the short-ish version: Barbarian writer-director Zach Cregger — a co-founder of the sketch comedy troupe “The Whitest Kids U’ Know” — threw a wide net, betting that at least one production company would respond to a daring script. Problem is, it appears it was too daring:
“I made a spreadsheet of every production company that had made a horror movie in the last 15 years and sent it out to all of them, and every one of them said no … They didn’t like that the movie resets on page 50. They didn’t like that there’s a character who’s part of Hollywood. And they said nobody wants to follow a rapist for 30 pages. All of these things that people were picking on, especially the lack of a structure, were the things that excited me the most. I knew that if I were to polish those edges, I would be compromising this thing and defanging it before it had a chance.”
Eventually Cregger wound up teaming up with the micro-budget genre company BoulderLight Picture, whose team wound up wrangling in their industry mentor, Roy Lee, who happens to have produced little movies like The Lego Movie, the How to Train Your Dragon cycle, and the It diptych (which featured eventual Barbarian co-star Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise). Together, they tried to sell it to bigger indie studios. They almost worked out something with Neon, but it fell through. A24, meanwhile, straight-up ignored it.
How it wound up at Disney is even more convoluted. Barbarian’s producers were able to fund it through foreign financing, some of which abruptly fell through soon before shooting was to begin. They worked out a last-second deal with New Regency, who had a long-standing deal with 20th Century Fox for distribution. Fox, of course, had been absorbed by Disney (who later dropped the “Fox” part). Instead of the famously family-friendly company being turned off by an R-rated hard-to-sell horror grinder with some nasty stuff in it, they decided to market it as a film that gets “discovered” by audiences. And so it has. And it’s all thanks — eventually, sort of — to the company currently at war with the governor of Florida, who’s busy being belittled for his dorky boots.
Barbarian is currently playing in theaters nationwide.