You gotta hand it to James Wan. Who would have thought that the director of a gruesomely over-the-top film like Saw would not only spawn too many Jigsaw-centered sequels but eventually helm a comic-book movie (the upcoming Aquaman) for Warner Bros. after successfully weaving an entire horror universe for the same studio? That latter feat launched only five years ago with 2013’s The Conjuring, and five films later, audiences are hooked. To date, the universe has captured over $542 million domestically and $1,563 billion worldwide, and there’s plenty more on the way. Here’s how the movies stack up in dollars:
The Conjuring: $137,400,141 (Global: $319,494,638)
The Nun: $116,269,449 (Global: $359,569,449)
The Conjuring 2: $102,470,008 (Global: $320,392,818)
Annabelle: Creation $102,092,201 (Global: $306,515,884)
Annabelle: $84,273,813 (Global: $257,047,661)
Two fresh installments, The Conjuring 3 and an unnamed third Annabelle movie, are in the works, with the latter described by Wan as “basically a night at the museum” with many of the artifacts that source from the home museum of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life paranormal-investigative figureheads who anchor this universe and are embodied by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. She’s a clairvoyant; he’s a demonologist of the Catholic church; and they’re both relatively fearless while the actors deliver understated performances. Yet although they haven’t appeared in every franchise film, their presence largely looms throughout the universe.
How do these films compare in terms of quality, though? We took a stab at ranking them, and here’s how they measured up.
5. Annabelle (2014)
This spinoff aimed to expand the tale of the doll (used by a demon as a conduit) that now sits in the Warrens’ museum of cursed artifacts. The mere appearance of the toy presented an intimidating and nightmarish take on Raggedy Ann, so a spinoff must have been irresistible, given that this doll — bolstered by telltale red crayons rolling across hardwood floors, terrifying scrawlings on walls and ceilings, and those horrific knocks at the door — was one of the most notable supporting aspects of The Conjuring. Yet once this inanimate object was held responsible for carrying an entire narrative, it quickly became apparent that Wan’s initial universe entry had cleverly pulled off some atmospheric wizardry with this toy, and these shenanigans couldn’t translate through a less forgiving structure than the original film’s full-on house of horrors.
Sadly, this spinoff also aimed for Hitchcockian vibes, but it takes much more than an icy cold blonde lead character and stairways aplenty to ascend to such heights. The script further fails to generate any empathy for the couple being “terrorized” by mysteriously rocking chairs and errant popcorn batches, and although the Satanic, Manson-esque cult members scored some thrilling moments, those characters only appeared briefly at the beginning. From there on out, audiences were stuck with a centerpiece whose scariest feat was “peering” through the crack underneath a doorway. Woof.
At least Annabelle kept viewers primed for a direct The Conjuring sequel.
4. The Nun (2018)
Anticipation ran high for this spinoff, which followed The Conjuring 2 but takes place decades prior, back in 1952, yet the end product didn’t quite achieve pants-wetting status. In the film, the Vatican sends a priest and a young nun-in-training (who was “gifted” with visions) to investigate a tragic suicide at an abbey that happened to sit atop a sealed gateway to Hell. Once on site, the demon Valak (who’s supposedly a major badass as far as actual demon lore is concerned) commences manipulations, and all is definitely not what it seems. Unfortunately and although the film does produce effective jump scares, other elements of the unintentionally cartoonish production produce too many laughs for this film to be taken seriously. Worst of all, The Nun justifies its entire existence by leaning into an anti-war bender as an expository mechanism, which is the universe’s most obvious (and groan-inducing) effort to get political. This is a misguided move in 2018, when U.S. audiences are already besieged with political messaging and, more than ever, desire to escape reality-based conflict. In short, The Nun was a missed opportunity to deliver a straight-up horror flick that could have relied more upon cemetery-based frights, maybe with better Evil Dead send-ups, rather than what materialized after Wan sowed the seeds of the titular hellspawn in The Conjuring 2.