Every ‘Conjuring’ Universe Film, Ranked Worst To Best’
Since Warner Bros. didn’t have Thursday night previews for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, there is no Thursday box office math to perform this morning. So instead, I will take the opportunity to use science, math and dark magic to rank every movie in the Conjuring Universe from worst-to-best. And for the sake of accuracy, I will not be including The Curse of La Llorona, which Warner Bros. swears isn’t actually a Conjuring Universe movie despite loosely sharing a universe and featuring Tony Amendola playing the same “Father Perez” he did in the first Annabelle spin-off. Anyway, without further ado, here we go…
The Nun (2019)
Budget: $22 million
Domestic Box Office: $118 million
Worldwide box office: $363 million
Despite being the biggest-grossing chapter of The Conjuring Universe, The Nun is total nunsense. As a prequel to The Conjuring 2, it offers little beyond filling in a few blanks in terms of how the main villain from that second Conjuring came to be. Lacking the vibrant atmosphere, detailed characterizations or even relatable moments, The Nun is the worst movie in a somewhat inconsistent franchise. It exists entirely to fill in irrelevant expository information related to a key Conjuring 2 villain, but makes almost every classic blunder in low budget horror, like ugly nighttime visuals, far too few characters (which means no one is really in peril until the end) and a lack of anything approximating entertainment value in between the attempted shocks. To be fair, that’s part of the price for a so-called connected universe. Sometimes you get Wonder Woman, sometimes you get Wonder Woman 1984. Alas, in this comparison, The Nun is Suicide Squad.
Domestic Box Office: $84 million
Worldwide Box Office: $257 million
Another “nothing burger” of a movie. The handsomely-staged and well-acted prequel to The Conjuring again sets the stage, establishes its characters and then offers almost nothing of substance or entertainment value while we wait for the characters to meet their seemingly inevitable supernatural fate. Annabelle Wallis stars as a young mother who ends up in possession of the titular possessed doll, and that’s pretty much it. The majority of the film is confined to as single sparse apartment, and solid acting by a game cast (including the always-welcome Alfre Woodard) can only move the ball so far. I actually enjoyed director John R. Leonetti’s Wish Upon, which starred Joey King (who co-starred in the original Conjuring among a bazillion other credits), but this cash-in prequel is frankly closer in quality to Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that a spin-off this bad and this poorly-received didn’t kill the notion of non-Conjuring Conjuring movies right then and there.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Budget: $40 million
Domestic Box Office: $102 million
Worldwide Box Office: $310 million
That this polished, comparatively mega-budget and big-scaled haunted house melodrama isn’t ranked higher is mostly due a single almost-fatal flaw: It’s 22 minutes longer than The Conjuring, and most of that runtime is spent on comparatively redundant scare set-pieces and an overwrought supernatural climax. That said, the film still as intended, with a deeply sympathetic family (in this case a near-impoverished single mother played by Francis O’Connor and her kids) being kicked while they are down as the Warrens eventually (and reluctantly) ride to the rescue. The opening half-hour is aces, including a pre-title sequence centered on the infamous Amityville murders and a deep-dive into the new family before ending on one of James Wan’s best horror set pieces. The film peaks there, with too much time spent on a premonition of Ed’s violent death. Still, there’s lots to appreciate here, including always enjoyable scenes of the Warrens doing their part not just to exorcise the demons but emotionally heal the family.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
Domestic Box Office: NA
Worldwide Box Office: $4 million-and-counting
In some ways, this new chapter (which debuts in theaters and on HBO Max this morning) is “inferior” to The Conjuring 2. I appreciated how the Michael Chaves-directed sequel tried to play outside its expected sandbox and maybe I just missed Ed and Lorraine Warren in their (longer-than-intended) absence. The Warrens, and their deeply committed onscreen relationship (it’s probably the healthiest cinematic marriage since The Mummy Returns if not The Addams Family) take center stage in this. We open where most Conjuring movies end, namely with a frantic attempt to exorcise a spirit and save a family. Long-story short, that leads to an eventual murder case where the defendant is claiming demonic possession as a motivation, which turns Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga into supernatural gumshoes. The movie surprisingly avoids the legal-eagle stuff for most of its running time, perhaps because the explicitly religious series didn’t want scenes of folks debating the existence of a higher power, but our marquee heroes make it sing.
This David F. Sandberg-directed prequel to Annabelle essentially “saved” the notion of viable Conjuring spin-offs, since A) it was a lot better than the first Annabelle and B) it essentially tied The Conjuring 2 at the domestic and worldwide box office. It may be, by default, the best “prequel to a prequel” ever made, and like Blumhouse’s Ouija series features a new horror pro (Sandberg had directed the stellar Lights Out in summer 2016 while the terrific Ouija: Origins of Evil had Mike Flanagan) attempting to right the ship. But while Origins of Evil was a classic “Tomb Raider Trap” (when a superior follow-up to a disliked hit disappoints because audiences didn’t like the first one), Creation was a smash. It helps that this visually dynamic and character-focused chapter, set in a makeshift orphanage run by Anthony LaPaglia’s grieving father, uses the lack of “true story” credentials to actually have gruesome and gory good time.
The Conjuring (2013)
Budget: $20 million
Domestic Box Office: $137 million
Worldwide Box Office: $320 million
It is a great irony that on the weekend where Warner Bros. was doubling-down on the so-called DC Films universe by converting a planned Man of Steel 2 to Batman v Superman in order to “win” SDCC, James Wan’s The Conjuring would explode out of the gate and became one of Warner Media’s most potent franchises. Tis better to be the “first” Conjuring than to try to be the “next Avengers.” Rewatching it now makes you realize how many of the franchise tropes (the 007-worthy curtain raiser, the utter decency of its ghost-busting heroes, the absolute belief in Catholic dogma sans any persecution complexes, the Exorcist meets Touched By An Angel sensibility, etc) were already in place for this “accidental” franchise.
This crowd-pleasing, visually scrumptious and richly-detailed period-piece haunted house chiller provides equal amounts of scares and drama. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga take center stage as the most pronounced horror franchise heroes since Neve Campbell in Scream. The 112-minute feature takes its time setting up a large nuclear family (headed by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) who would be perfectly happy if not for the supernatural menace. James Wan’s period piece emphasizes the notion of the walls closing in on the Perrons while miraculously ending in a somewhat unconventional (for a religious horror flick) fashion. Intentionally or not, Atomic Robot learned the best lesson of the MCU, waiting until audiences had thrilled to The Conjuring before promising more where that came from.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Budget: $27 million
Domestic Box Office: $74 million
Worldwide Box Office: $229 million
I know, I was just as surprised then as you might be now. But this delightful “sequel to Annabelle but prequel to The Conjuring” hybrid flick is a kicky little blast with an undercurrent of refreshing decency. Directed by Gary Dauberman (who wrote or co-wrote four Conjuring Universe flicks, including this one) and only sporadically featuring Wilson and Farmiga, this comparatively light and carnage-free chapter plays like a kid-friendly Goosebumps adventure that happens to take place in the Conjuring continuity. It’s set right before and then right after The Conjuring, and I will note thatquite a few of these films play like The Huntsman: Winter’s War in that they are both prequels and sequels to other chapters.
This one stars Mckenna Grace as Judy Warren (played by Sterling Jerins in the Conjuring films) and concerns her two babysitters (Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife) who accidentally unlock Annabelle and turn the Warren house into a marathon of potential Conjuring Universe spin-offs. It’s not the heaviest, darkest or most violent chapter in the Conjuring Universe, but it may be the most fun. It anchors terror in relatable human behavior and sympathetic desires. Judy is scared of inheriting her mother’s psychic abilities, while Sarife’s Daniela wants to communicate with her late father. The film ends with a surprisingly moving and empathetic epilogue which highlights the core Veggie Tales-Christianity appeal which makes Conjuring more than just a religious horror series.