The Conjuring Universe Makes a Box Office Comeback

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we look at the opening box office attendance numbers for new releases The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and Spirit Untamed. 

If you want to watch any of the eight installments of The Conjuring Universe, you can do so right now on HBO Max. Yes, even the latest entry, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. The second Conjuring sequel is right there, along with the other two Conjuring movies, the three Annabelle movies, and The Nun. For no additional “premier access.” Well, okay, The Devil Made Me Do It is not available to subscribers of the new cheaper ad-supported tier of HBO Max (but why would you bother paying for that version anyway?). Anyway, I mention this because, despite the easy access to The Conjuring 3 at home, the movie still grossed $24.1 million at the box office in its opening weekend in theaters.

That would be a decent haul for a horror sequel in any old time. In fact, the reported gross amounts to about 2.6 million tickets sold for the Michael Chaves-helmed return of the cinematic incarnation of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). That’s more than the previous release from The Conjuring Universe, Annabelle Comes Home, which debuted on the big screen in June 2019 to an opening weekend attendance of about 2.2 million. Prior to that, the loosely connected installment The Curse of La Llorona, also directed by Chaves, brought in about 2.9 million people in its first few days.

Of course, the franchise is still way down from its peak — 2018’s The Nun — and just over half of what the original Conjuring did eight years ago. Here’s a chronological look at the opening-weekend ticket sales for The Conjuring Universe:

1. The Conjuring (2013) – 5.1 million
2. Annabelle (2014) – 4.5 million
3. The Conjuring 2 (2016) – 4.7 million
4. Annabelle: Creation (2017) – 3.9 million
5. The Nun (2018) – 5.9 million
6. The Curse of La Llorona (2019) – 2.9 million
7. Annabelle Comes Home (2019) – 2.2 million
8. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) – 2.6 million

Ironically, The Nun had the best debut and second-best total gross of the franchise but it has the worst review, according to Rotten Tomatoes. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has the fifth-best reviews of The Conjuring Universe, the lowest one to still have a positive score. And its audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is currently tied for franchise-best with the original Conjuring. For those who prefer Metacritic, The Devil Made Me Do It is tied for fifth-best of the franchise there, matching Annabelle Comes Home. It also only ranks third from opening weekend moviegoers polled by Cinemascore, with a B+ grade, just behind the other two Conjuring movies.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It exceeded expectations, according to the forecast by Box Office Pro, which predicted a gross equivalent to 2.1 million tickets. That would have been a franchise low. Going back to Box Office Pro’s long-range summer box office forecast from last month, the movie has been given a range of anywhere between about 1.6 million and 2.7 million. So, it wound up near the high point of potential. Experts actually saw the new Conjuring sequel opening in second place at the box office, behind the second weekend of another horror sequel: A Quiet Place Part II. But following that movie’s success last weekend, it dropped fifty-nine percent to sell just 2.1 million tickets over the last few days instead of the forecast 2.4 million.

Also disappointing compared to its forecast is yet another franchise entry: Spirit Untamed. The DreamWorks Animation feature is the first theatrical Spirit effort since the 2002 traditional animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Box Office Pro figured the new movie would draw a modest crowd of roughly 790,000 people, but its actual audience size was closer to around 680,000. But it’s not outside of the full range allowed by the site, which expected somewhere between 550,000 and 980,000. Something had happened recently, though, for Box Office Pro to raise its numbers for Spirit Untamed since their long-range forecast span had a low equivalent to about 220,000. Still, Stallion of the Cimarron opened to about 3.1 million tickets sold. And no other DreamWorks Animation release has had such a poor showing in its opening weekend.

Personally, I wouldn’t have predicted much at all for Spirit Untamed given that it’s another theatrical animated feature in a media franchise with a heavy presence on the small screen. DreamWorks’ Spirit Riding Free ran for eight seasons on Netflix beginning in 2017, and then a spinoff titled Spirit Riding Free: Pony Tales released two seasons in 2019, and another ongoing spinoff, Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy dropped two seasons last year. That means there are seventy-eight episodes available for kids to watch at home at any time. Plus a 2019 Christmas special and an interactive special, which was the last Spirit thing to drop, last December. On top of that, Spirit Untamed is essentially a retelling of the plot of the first Riding Free series.

Perhaps that’s why the new feature’s reviews have leaned more on the negative side, compared to the relatively positive reception for the Oscar-nominated original. However, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is exceptionally high, and its Cinemascore grade, A, is the same as the one received by Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron nearly twenty years ago. You can bet that if DreamWorks and Universal had just put the new feature out on Netflix, it would have been very popular. But families aren’t often excited to spend tons of money to go see something on the big screen that the kids are fine with seeing in another form at home. It’s not like so many horror fans that would rather see a Conjuring movie in the theater than on HBO Max.

Rounding out this past weekend’s new releases, Theo Anthony’s documentary All Light, Everywhere (which is currently one of my favorite films of the year) had one of the best per-screen averages ($2,606) while playing at just two locations. Christian Petzold’s latest, the fantastical drama Undine, did not fare as well, average-wise ($491), in its limited release despite its having great reviews. Its opening gross is near Petzold’s previous two films, but both of those opened on only two screens. Coming very close to the weekend top ten even though it’s playing on fewer than one-hundred screens, the Mormon action movie Witnesses sold about 17,000 tickets — more if my assumption holds that its locations’ prices were below the national average.

Here are this week’s top ten movie releases by estimated ticket sales [with totals in brackets]:

1. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It: 2.6 million [2.6 million]
2. A Quiet Place Part II: 2.1 million [9.7 million]
3. Cruella: 1.2 million [4.8 million]
4. Spirit Untamed: 0.7 million [0.7 million]
5. Raya and the Last Dragon: 140,000 [5.8 million]
6. Wrath of Man: 138,000 [2.7 million]
7. Spiral: 98,000 [2.4 million]
8. Demon Slayer: Mugen Train: 63,000 [5.2 million]
9. Godzilla vs. Kong: 57,000 [10.8 million]
10. Dream Horse: 56,000 [0.3 million]

All box office gross figures sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro.

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