The horror film Color Out of Space, based on the short story of the same name by H.P. Lovecraft, was released in theaters on January 24, 2020. Directed by Richard Stanley and starring Nicolas Cage, the film tells the story of the Gardner family whose rural life is upended after a meteorite crashes on their front lawn, bringing with it an extraterrestrial organism that infects the land and rooms around their home.
Color Out of Space was released in theaters on January 24, 2020.
Color Out of Space had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019. This marked the first major film festival screening for the movie. Following its festival run, Color Out of Space was given a limited theatrical release in the United States starting on January 24, 2020. This release date chosen by distributor RLJE Films positioned the film as a new horror offering at the beginning of the year, hoping to capitalize on audiences seeking thrills and chills.
The development of a Color Out of Space film adaptation was a long process spanning over many years. Director Richard Stanley had been trying to get the project off the ground since the late 1990s. The short story by H.P. Lovecraft was published in 1927 and Stanley believed its themes of cosmic horror would translate well to film. However, his early attempts at adapting the story failed to gain traction in Hollywood. Stanley ended up directing the 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau, only to be fired and replaced before production was completed. After this experience, he took an extended break from feature filmmaking.
In 2010, Stanley’s planned adaptation of Color Out of Space was resurrected when producer SpectreVision acquired the film rights. The company was founded by actor Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah, and Josh C. Waller and aimed to produce unique horror films. Stanley teamed up with SpectreVision and continued working on the script and pre-production. By January 2019, the film had secured financing from ACE Pictures and was ready to begin shooting.
Principal photography for Color Out of Space took place over five weeks between February and March 2019. Filming locations included Portugal, where the rural Gardner farm was brought to life. Establishing shots of the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts were filmed around Pomfret and Eastford, Connecticut. Additional shooting was completed at Channel 3 Studio in East Hartford, serving as soundstage space.
The cast was led by Nicolas Cage as Nathan Gardner, the patriarch of the family encountering the extraterrestrial threat. This marked Cage’s first venture into the horror genre since 2007’s The Wicker Man remake. Co-starring alongside Cage were Joely Richardson as Theresa Gardner, Madeleine Arthur as Lavinia Gardner, Brendan Meyer as Benny Gardner, Julian Hilliard as Jack Gardner, Elliot Knight as Ward Phillips, and Q’orianka Kilcher as Mayor Tooma. Tommy Chong also appears in a supporting role.
The director of photography was Steve Annis, editing was handled by Tom Scherbert, and the music score was composed by Colin Stetson.
RLJE Films acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Color Out of Space in February 2019, while the film was still in production. The company determined that a theatrical release in January 2020 would be the best release strategy. This slotted Color Out of Space as an early-year horror release, similar to 2019’s Escape Room and 2018’s Insidious: The Last Key which found box office success in that timeframe.
The world premiere on the film festival circuit took place at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019, giving critics and audiences a first look. In the lead-up to the theatrical release, Color Out of Space screened at several more festivals including Sitges, London, Brooklyn Horror, and Beyond Fest.
The U.S. theatrical premiere was on January 22, 2020 in Los Angeles. Then on January 24, the film opened in 81 theaters across the U.S. This release expanded to 139 theaters in the following weeks. Internationally, the rollout began in Portugal and Taiwan on January 24 as well. The U.K. premiere was on February 28.
Color Out of Space received generally positive reviews from critics. As of August 2023, the film holds an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 147 reviews, with the consensus stating: “Color Out of Space adapts its source material to disturbing, thrilling effect with appropriately vivid gore and a typically unhinged Nicolas Cage performance.”
In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore described the film as “a satisfyingly squirmy horror show” and praised the “impressive visual effects.” Chris Bumbray of JoBlo’s Movie Emporium called it “a suitably gory and faithful take on the H.P. Lovecraft short story.” IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote that “Cage freaks out as well as he always has.”
However, not all reviews were positive. Dennis Harvey of Variety said the film “doesn’t deliver sufficient shivers” despite some effective body horror moments. In a more negative take, Noel Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote that “too much of Color Out of Space is clumsy, tedious and secondhand.”
While there were some divided reactions from critics, Nicolas Cage’s committed performance was singled out by many as a highlight. Overall, the film was seen as a stylistic and generally satisfying take on the classic Lovecraft source material.
Box Office Performance
Over its theatrical run, Color Out of Space grossed $3.1 million at the U.S. box office. Its opening weekend brought in $1.2 million from 81 theaters for a per-theater average of $14,708. This was considered a successful start from distributor RLJE Films given the film’s niche genre and limited release.
Internationally, the film picked up an additional $4.2 million for a worldwide total of $7.3 million. That was a strong result given the production budget of around $6 million.
Here is a table of the key box office milestones for Color Out of Space:
While not a major box office smash, Color Out of Space was able to turn a profit and find an audience thanks to strong VOD sales and streams on services like Shudder after its theatrical run.
The critical and commercial success of Color Out of Space helped revive director Richard Stanley’s career after over two decades away from feature filmmaking. In interviews, Stanley indicated that more Lovecraft adaptations could follow and that he hoped to build a shared universe. He credited SpectreVision and star Nicolas Cage with helping him realize his vision authentically.
Cage’s performance was praised for capturing the growing unhinged madness of the protagonist. Along with other acclaimed roles in recent years, Color Out of Space showed he remained a compelling force in the horror genre. For supporting actress Madeleine Arthur, her turn as Lavinia Gardner marked a breakout that led to more high-profile roles.
As one of the first major theatrical adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal tale, Color Out of Space renewed interest in the author’s cosmic horror stories. Its combination of body horror, existential themes, and vivid practical effects were cited as capturing the tone of Lovecraft in a way that many previous attempts had failed. It showed there was potential for well-crafted cinematic takes on his twisted creations.
The film’s strongest legacy is perhaps revitalizing folk horror in mainstream film. Along with other recent releases like Midsommar and The Witch, Color Out of Space proved that modern audiences still had an appetite for rural horror tales infused with the supernatural. Its tale of an isolated family tormented by a sinister extraterrestrial presence evoked classic weird fiction and forged a template for more to come.
Color Out of Space brought a beloved H.P. Lovecraft story to vivid life when it arrived in theaters in January 2020. The long-awaited adaptation marked the return of director Richard Stanley and featured a typically intense performance by Nicolas Cage as a father watching his family deteriorate along with their home. It received positive reviews for capturing the tone of cosmic horror and showcasing impressive visual effects.
While not a major commercial hit, the film performed well enough to turn a profit and help reinvigorate folk horror on the big screen. Cage and young co-star Madeline Arthur earned acclaim for their unsettling portrayals of a family tormented by an alien contagion. And Stanley’s artistic vision after so many years away proved he still had a creative grasp on Lovecraftian storytelling.
Ultimately, Color Out of Space will be remembered for translating one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most iconic tales into a terrifying and thrilling new form. Its legacy has already impacted the horror genre and will likely continue inspiring more nightmarish trips into the cosmic unknown.