A Buzzy Korean Horror Movie Is Sneakily One Of The Biggest Box Office Hits Of 2024

2024 is (or at least was) off to a somewhat slow start at the box office. Ticket sales are pacing around 9% behind compared to this same point in 2023, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Not only do we have movies like "Dune: Part Two" and the upcoming "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" to help bring movie theaters some much-needed business, but a buzzy, original, Korean horror-thriller has sneakily become one of the biggest hits of the year thus far.

The movie in question is "Exhuma." Directed by Jang Jae-Hyun, it has been on an absolute tear in South Korea, topping the charts five weekends in a row. Movies like "Dune: Part Two" have been unable to take the top spot away from it. "Exhuma" has, as of this writing, made more than $73 million in the country and is one of the biggest hits there in the pandemic era. It has sold more than 10 million tickets, which is the level at which a movie is certified as a blockbuster in the country. Considering it has a population of around 50 million, that's truly impressive. So, what is this blockbuster you might not have even heard of? The official synopsis reads as follows:

When a renowned shaman (Kim Go-Eun) and her protégé (Lee Do-hyun) are hired by a wealthy, enigmatic family, they begin investigating the cause of a disturbing supernatural illness that affects only the first-born children of each generation. With the help of a knowledgeable mortician (Yoo Hai-jin) and the country's most revered geomancer (Choi Min-sik), they soon trace the affliction's origin to a long-hidden family grave located on sacred ground. Sensing an ominous aura surrounding the burial site, the team opts to exhume and relocate the ancestral remains immediately. But as something much darker emerges, they soon discover what befalls those who dare to mess with the wrong grave.

Exhuma is a massive hit in South Korea

Looking at the slightly larger picture, "Exhuma" is now the 12th biggest movie worldwide released so far in 2024, with a global total of $75 million. It sits just below director Matthew Vaughn's very expensive spy movie "Argylle" ($95.8 million), released by Apple. As the film continues its run in South Korea and expands throughout the rest of the world, it has a real shot at crossing the $100 million mark, which would put it above Sony's Marvel Comics adaptation "Madame Web" ($97.6 million) as well.

"Exhuma" is currently playing in the U.S. and several other countries, including New Zealand and the U.K. For what it's worth, the thriller did quite well for itself (relatively speaking) this past weekend in North America, taking in $489,761 on just 67 screens, giving it a stellar $7,310 per screen average, indicating that the buzz for this one is building even outside of its native country. As we've seen in the past with movies like Best Picture winner "Parasite," American audiences will show up for the right Korean import. "Parasite" ended up pulling in a very impressive $53.3 million in the States back in 2019, en route to $258 million worldwide. 

Whether or not "Exhuma" manages to break through the same way remains to be seen. Even if it doesn't, we're talking about an original movie that is making very good money and generating a lot of buzz. So far as the health of the global theatrical marketplace is concerned, that's excellent news. In a down year, success stories such as this are more than welcome.

"Exhuma" is in theaters now.