With the recent announcement by (HBO)Max that there will be a new original series based in The Conjuring universe and this year seeing both a sequel to The Nun and the 10-year anniversary of the first film, I thought it was a good time to take a look back at one of the most surprising and successful franchises of the past decade.
By 2013 director James Wan already had more than enough horror clout, he launched two franchises, Saw and Insidious, that are both still ongoing, along with an underrated gem in the throwback, midnight movie Dead Silence.
Speaking of horror clout, the legendary tales of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren began in 1952 and spanned decades. The famous duo claimed to have investigated over 10,000 cases so when it comes to a treasure trove of potential spooky content their only rival might be Stephen King. Wan and the Warrens turned out to be a creepily perfect pairing as their first haunted house venture, The Conjuring, was as heartfelt as it was scary. Having Mrs. Warren (who also pops up in a cameo) as a consultant allowed for more fleshed-out versions of both families which help add layers to the suspense once the characters you’ve grown to care about are thrown into some perilous sequences.
Wan would return to direct the sequel in 2016 while handing off the reigns to Michael Chaves (who also helmed The Curse of La Llorona and The Nun 2) for the third entry 2021’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. These are joined by the Annabelle spin-off trilogy, the standalone film The Curse of La Llorona, and The Nun. Along with the announced series, it is still believed that a 4th film in the main storyline is in the works and there have been rumors of a 4th Annabelle. This might seem like an abundance of content, but combined the 8 movies have made a staggering $2.1 Billion with consistency: 7 of the 8 have made between $205-365 million.
While each of the movies has been successful financially, that doesn’t mean they were all successful in terms of quality.
So let’s jump into the list and rank The Conjuring franchise!
- The Curse of La Llorona (2019)
Despite there being some dispute about whether this is actually part of the universe, it features a recurring character, so it counts! Now, being last place on a list is never a good thing, but this wasn’t a total miss either. A solid opening combined with a great horror-mom performance from Linda Cardellini makes up for some of the more generic quick-cut scares. The titular baddie coming for kids adds an elevated level of suspense, but the atmosphere never quite builds up enough to warrant being more than a solid 1-time watch.
- Annabelle (2014)
Annabelle might be the most flawed film in the franchise but there are a few stand-out shocks and a cast determined to make the most of a substandard screenplay. Coming just a little over a year after making her debut as a side scare character in The Conjuring the Annabelle doll gets top billing here and while the critical reception was nowhere near as favorable this was a runaway hit making just shy of $260 million on a $6 million budget, guaranteeing a sequel. The funny thing is this movie has gotten just a little bit better with time, it was a letdown upon release but looking back it has a zany, 80s satanic panic vibe that doesn’t really work but certainly makes it interesting.
- The Nun (2018)
While the narrative is more miss than hit The Nun might be the best entry on this list in terms of cinematography and atmosphere building. The plot is pretty run-of-the-mill religious horror, though the two leads give it their best shot. The ending cleverly ties into the original The Conjuring so bonus points for that. I still believe there is a tremendous 45-60 minute, B&W, silent film that could be made from the footage shot for this one as the dark ages abbey which serves as the central location is Horror 101 in the best way.
- Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Annabelle Comes Home is a strange entry in the timeline. It is pretty by itself in this position on the list as I think it’s as markedly better than the previous entries as it is worse than the upcoming; the middle child if you will. Despite the R rating, this feels like the scares were clipped to make it more kid-friendly (think the teen version of Goosebumps) treating the Warrens’ notorious trophy room with a Scooby-Doo sensibility as opposed to the “this is going to kill you” levels set by the main The Conjuring films.
That being said, it works very well for what it is, far outshining the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark adaptation and it’s largely due to the presence of Ed and Lorraine as this story takes the focus to their daughter. Even in secondary roles the presence of our fav spook hunting couple adds some weight to this movie and solidifies its place in the universe. Random fun fact: The opening weekend for Annabelle Comes Home in June 2019 also featured Toy Story 4 and the Child’s Play remake leading to 30% of that weekend’s top 10 movies being about toys coming to life.
- The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
The third outing for the Warrens takes them out of the house…..and into the courtroom? While it might not sound that exciting the change of pace is refreshing and allows Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to show off the awesome chemistry they’ve developed. This movie reminded me a bit of Primal Fear and a bit of The Exorcism of Emily Rose which made me very disappointed that Laura Linney wasn’t in it but that’s a personal complaint. There are fewer scares here than the level established in the previous movies but considering it is the more open world you will naturally lose some of the claustrophobic eeriness. That being said, this series still has legs and the ability to switch sub-genres here solidifies that fact.
- The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Sequels can be difficult. Expectations are increased along with the budget, and you’re tasked with making something feel both familiar and new at the same time. This isn’t insurmountable as sequels are some of the most common and successful movies in Hollywood; but how many are held in the same regard as the original? Well, not too many, and despite being a couple of spots lower on this list the top 3 here are pretty interchangeable and The Conjuring 2 offers a really high scare-per-minute ratio making another memorable location with its own horrific demons.
If there’s any knock on this sequel it would have to be that we don’t get quite the same connection with the family experiencing the haunting (there were a lot of kids in that house) but even that complaint can be mitigated by Wilson & Farmiga settling further into the roles and therefore leading the show a bit more. The gloomy, foggy English setting is the perfect playground for Wan and Co. as they deliver their second modern horror classic in as many attempts.
- Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Honestly, this was one of the most surprising horror experiences I’ve had. Expectations for this sequel were all but nonexistent, a prequel to the prequel of a superior franchise had minimal appeal but Annabelle: Creation is amongst the strongest cases in the argument for never pre-judging a movie. The scares are legit and frequent throughout this tale of a young girl with Polio trying to avoid the demon stalking through her orphanage. Annabelle gets a backstory and then makes her doll debut as a conduit for the demon in what is by far the most effective use of the creepy toy. Honestly, the whole thing is so well done it actually elevates its disappointing predecessor, I just wish the sequel had kept the tone.
- The Conjuring (2013)
The term instant classic can be thrown around recklessly on movies that felt great in the moment but after some time away and critical thinking, it ends up just being a good flick. That isn’t the case with The Conjuring, during the opening night I was witness to a grown man saying, “fuck this!” and walking out visibly shaken, and the person I was with gripping onto the theater armrests with roller coaster intensity. I enjoyed the other reactions but realized it was a comfort I was needing to alleviate the tension I had internally. Considering my relationship with horror was over 20 years at that point it was exciting to get that dropped gut level of fear I had only experienced from a few films previously.
This harrowing and horrifying tale of a family trying to rid themselves of the gnarly spirit they inherit with their new home and the paranormal investigators willing to put themselves on the front line for them. Solid, believable performances across the board keep things feeling grounded even when we’re deep into the supernatural while Wan operates like a horror Tarantino making old tricks and tropes feel new all over again. Ten years later it turns out the instant classic crown wasn’t a moment of recency bias as The Conjuring remains effective as ever with an influence spread across the horror world.
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? How would you rank the films in The Conjuring Universe? Tell us in the comments!