James Wan's $20 million-budgeted horror movie The Conjuring, starring Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Patrick Wilson, may end up grossing about twice its production cost at the North American box office this weekend, July 19-21, 2013. According to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo, The Conjuring scored a highly impressive $17.03 million from 2,903 venues on Friday — including $3.31 million from Thursday evening and midnight screenings. That means Wan's generally well-received effort (see below) may end up boasting the biggest domestic opening ever for an original R-rated horror movie — well, if you pretend inflation doesn't exist.
Now, inflation plays no role among this weekend's films: The Conjuring has been leaving far behind three other (way costlier) new releases: DreamWorks Animation's $135 million-budgeted Turbo; the Ryan Reynolds / Jeff Bridges supernatural actioner R.I.P.D., which may have cost upwards of $150 million (some reports say $130 million); and the Bruce Willis / Mary-Louise Parker / Helen Mirren action sequel Red 2, with a reported price tag of $84 million. Of those, only Turbo is expected to gross over $20 million this weekend, whereas The Conjuring, which has an 84 percent approval rating and 7.3/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics, should bring in $38-40 million by Sunday evening. (Update: According to studio esimates, The Conjuring has taken in $41.53 million. Weekend box office actuals will be released on Monday.)
Ignoring pesky details such as inflation, the current opening-weekend record holder among original R-rated horror movies is James DeMonaco's Michael Bay-coproduced The Purge, starring Ethan Hawke. This poorly received entry in the horror genre collected $34.05 million when it came out last month, after grossing $16.8 million on Friday. The previous record holder was William Brent Bell's The Devil Inside, with $33.73 million in January 2012.
Considering The Conjuring's generally positive reviews and the possibility of good word of mouth — the film has an A- CinemaScore — expect the Vera Farmiga / Patrick Wilson horror movie to have a less steep Friday-Saturday drop than the usual run-of-the-mill effort in that genre. Hence, the chance that The Conjuring may overperform on the weekend proper and thus reach (at least close to) the $40 million mark.
Inflation-adjusted opening-weekend box office grosses of original, R-rated horror movie hits
Once inflation is taken into account, other original R-rated horror movies with excellent debuts include M. Night Shyamalan / Bruce Willis' eventual Best Picture Oscar nominee The Sixth Sense, which brought in $26.68 million in August 1999, or about $42 million today. In late July 2000, Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath, written by The Avengers' Clark Gregg, and starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, raked in $29.7 million — or, once again, about $42 million in 2013 dollars.
Also: Scott Derrickson's The Exorcism of Emily Rose, starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, and Campbell Scott, collected $30.05 million in September 2005, or about $37 million today. Just like The Conjuring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is "Based on a True Story."
Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge pulled in $39.12 million in October 2004, or about $50 million today — a figure that The Conjuring has no chance of surpassing. But The Grudge doesn't quite count, as the Sam Raimi-produced supernatural horror film featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jason Behr was a remake of Shimizu's own Japanese-language original.
Now, although The Conjuring is overperforming, there's no way this late July weekend will get even close to the domestic box office gross of last year's equivalent weekend. That was when Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale's third and final installment in their Batman trilogy grossed $160.88 million despite the Aurora, Colorado, massacre — one of the worst in the history of the gun-mad United States.
Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson topline The Conjuring cast
Besides Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, The Conjuring features Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell, Ron Livingston, Joey King, Kyla Deaver, Hayley McFarland, Shannon Kook, and Mackenzie Foy — who just happens to be Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart's hybrid baby Renesmee in Bill Condon's The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Breaking Dawn Part 2. Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (House of Wax, The Reaping) are credited for The Conjuring's screenplay.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in the horror movie The Conjuring photo: Warner Bros.