James Wan’s Warner Bros.-distributed horror movie The Conjuring, starring Patrick Wilson (Little Children, Watchmen) and 2009 Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), opened with more than twice its reported $20 million production budget at 2,903 North American venues this past weekend, July 19-21, 2013. According to weekend box office actuals found at Box Office Mojo, The Conjuring took in an outstanding $41.85 million — including an estimated $3.31 million from Thursday evening and midnight screenings. The horror movie also earned an additional $3.4 million internationally.
Which movie is the box office record holder in the original R-rated horror movie category? The Conjuring vs. The Sixth Sense, What Lies Beneath
The initial gross of James Wan’s supernatural tale means The Conjuring has had the most successful domestic opening ever for an original R-rated horror movie — possibly even after inflation is taken into account. For comparison’s sake: M. Night Shyamalan / Bruce Willis / Haley Joel Osment’s eventual Best Picture Academy Award nominee The Sixth Sense scored $26.68 million in August 1999, or approximately $42 million in 2013 dollars. In late July 2000, Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath, written by The Avengers’ Clark Gregg, and toplining Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, pulled in $29.7 million — or, once again, approximately $42 million today.
The only way to know for a fact which movie is first would be for the Hollywood studios to release the actual number of tickets sold for each of them. Admittedly, neither The Sixth Sense nor What Lies Beneath had the advantage of Thursday evening shows; while The Sixth Sense opened at about 800 fewer theaters than The Conjuring.
Note: although Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge raked in $39.12 million in October 2004, or about $50 million today, this Sam Raimi-produced supernatural horror movie featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jason Behr doesn’t count as an "original R-rated horror movie." After all, The Grudge was a remake of Shimizu’s own Japanese-language original.
And here’s another horror original, along the lines of The Conjuring’s "Based on a True Story" marketing package: Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, starring Campbell Scott, Laura Linney, and Tom Wilkinson, earned $30.05 million in September 2005, or about $37 million today.
The Conjuring movie: Good reviews, word of mouth
Word of mouth and positive reviews likely helped The Conjuring: the horror movie about paranormal investigators (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) received an A- CinemaScore and has an 84 percent approval rating and 7.3/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics. Perhaps as a result of the good will of both critics and mouths, The Conjuring was down 17 percent on Saturday and 21 percent on Sunday — unusually low drop-off rates for a movie in the horror genre.
Here are more comparisons: Ignoring inflation, the previous opening-weekend record holder among original R-rated horror movies was James DeMonaco’s Michael Bay-coproduced The Purge, starring Ethan Hawke, which grossed $34.05 million when it debuted last month. The poorly received The Purge ultimately cumed at $64.06 million. The previous record holder was William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside, with $33.73 million in January 2012, and a cume of $53.26 million. In case The Conjuring continues misbehaving at the box office — i.e., behaving unlike a typical horror movie — expect its cume to far surpass those of the genre’s previous record holders and to become one of the most financially successful movies in the careers of both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.
James Wan’s horror movies
The Malaysian-born James Wan’s previous horror movie, the April 2011 release Insidious, also featuring Patrick Wilson (alongside Bridesmaids’ Rose Byrne and veteran Barbara Hershey), opened with $13.27 million at 2,408 locations, eventually cuming at $54 million in the U.S. and Canada (in addition to approximately $43 million internationally). Of note: Wan’s credits as a producer includes the Saw movie sequels, while his upcoming directing effort is Insidious: Chapter 2, bringing back Wilson, Byrne, and Hershey, and which is scheduled to open on September 13 in North America. Next in line for Wan is Fast & Furious 7.
Low-budget horror movie The Conjuring vs. big-budget releases
Here are few more comparisons — to this weekend’s big-budget movies: DreamWorks Animation’s $135 million-budgeted Turbo earned $21.31 million, for a five-day cume of $31.01 million, about $5 million below early estimates; the Lionsgate / Summit-distributed Bruce Willis / Helen Mirren / Anthony Hopkins action sequel Red 2, with a reported price tag of $84 million, earned a disappointing $18.04 million; and the Universal-distributed Ryan Reynolds / Jeff Bridges supernatural actioner R.I.P.D., which may have cost upwards of $150 million (some reports claim $130 million), collected a disastrous $12.46 million.
Now, I haven’t been able to find marketing costs for The Conjuring. A modest production budget may at times belie a hefty marketing budget, i.e., Paramount’s Paranormal Activity movies.
And finally, although it’s true that The Conjuring overperformed, this last weekend was down 19 percent compared to a year ago, when Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale’s third and final installment in their Batman trilogy, also featuring Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hardy, grossed $160.88 million. An impressive figure, albeit millions less than expected, surely at least in part because of the July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting — one of the worst in the history of the gun-crazy United States.
Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson topline The Conjuring cast
Besides Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, the horror movie The Conjuring features Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol, The Haunting), Mackenzie Foy (Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s daughter Renesmee in Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 and Breaking Dawn - Part 2), Ron Livingston, Joey King, Shanley Caswell, Kyla Deaver, Hayley McFarland, and Shannon Kook. Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (House of Wax, The Reaping) were credited for The Conjuring screenplay.
Patrick Wilson as paranormal investigator Ed Warren in the horror movie The Conjuring photo: Warner Bros.