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Franchise Association Could Have Benefitted ‘The Curse of La Llorona’

Not that Warner Bros. has any reason to complain about the horror movie’s box office success.
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Warner Bros.
By  · Published on April 22nd, 2019

When you look up The Curse of La Llorona on Box Office Mojo, there’s no spot on the movie’s page noting its place within The Conjuring Universe. The website is adhering to Warner Bros.’ attempt to keep the fact that La Llorona is a Conjuring movie a secret. The connection isn’t a huge spoiler — this isn’t like Split suddenly being an Unbreakable sequel at the very end. But some fans surely get a kick out of the association when La Llorona reveals its links to the horror franchise. I won’t say what they are here.

If the studio had sold La Llorona as an official Conjuring movie, would the decision have paid off more on opening weekend? Sure, it came in first place in its debut anyway, grossing almost triple its reported budget for an easy profit. And that’s just in North America. La Llorona made more than double the domestic figure worldwide so far. Warner Bros. and New Line have to be plenty satisfied with the domestic opening weekend attendance of 2.9 million, even if that’s a lot lower than the Conjuring Universe’s previous worst debut when Annabelle: Creation sold just 3.9 million tickets.

Here are the domestic opening weekend attendance numbers for the franchise:

1. The Nun (2018): 6.1 million
2. The Conjuring (2013): 5.3 million
3. The Conjuring 2 (2016): 4.6 million
4. Annabelle (2014): 4.5 million
5. Annabelle: Creation (2017): 3.9 million
6. The Curse of La Llorona (2019): 2.9 million

I’ve seen some claim Warner Bros. didn’t market La Llorona as a Conjuring movie because of it’s lesser quality and poor reviews as well as their expected lower box office. Long range tracking back in February, via Box Office Pro, showed the industry anticipated the movie selling around 2.2 million tickets. And last week, the forecast was even lower, predicting the Mexican folklore-inspired film would only draw about 1.9 million moviegoers. So there’s another reason for the studio to celebrate: the thing actually overperformed.

Regarding reviews, though, La Llorona didn’t even receive the worst critical reception of the Conjuring Universe. That’d be The Nun, which has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 26%. And obviously, that didn’t hurt its opening weekend box office. Next worst is Annabelle with 29% followed by La Llorona with 33%. The rest are fresh on the site, with Annabelle: Creation scoring a 70%, The Conjuring 2 an 80% and the original leading the pack with an 85%. Creation‘s better reviews couldn’t help it open better than the first Annabelle, but perhaps due to those better reviews, it wound up selling more tickets through its whole run than its predecessor.

La Llorona didn’t have the worst audience reception, either. According to CinemaScore polling, opening-night audiences gave the movie a grade of ‘B-,’ which is worse than the two Annabelle movies’ ‘B’ grades and the two core Conjuring movies’ ‘A-‘ grades. But that most-successful opener, The Nun, was again at the bottom. Fans graded that one a ‘C,’ and the word of mouth that would go with such disappointment may be the reason The Nun had the best debut but still fell way short of being the top domestic grosser of the franchise overall — it still is franchise-best worldwide, however.

We can’t know for sure if La Llorona would have performed even better with franchise-driven marketing. We can’t tell if the movie did overperform compared to what it was tracking for because so many critics and websites ignored the attempts to keep its Conjuring connection a secret. Maybe The Conjuring Universe would have experienced franchise fatigue after many fans’ disappointment with The Nun anyway. But I believe the branding would have lifted the ship along with all the others, even if it didn’t deserve a bigger audience.

Speaking of franchise associations, in other box office news from the weekend, Captain Marvel shot up a bit to return to the top five thanks to audiences wanting to finally catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe installment or see it again before the release of Avengers: Endgame this next weekend. Seven weekends in, Captain Marvel already has the eighth-best domestic attendance of the 21 MCU titles and the seventh-highest gross worldwide. Some say the movie wouldn’t be quite as successful if it wasn’t setting up Endgame, and that might be partly correct.

Despite dropping to second place after a couple of weekends on top, Shazam! continues to have legs, even if it’s sure to stay at the bottom of the DC Extended Universe as far as the franchise’s grosses go. Not all superhero movies can be so lucky, though, as Hellboy fell a whopping 68% in its second weekend, almost right out of the top 10. Heavenly figures fared better. Breakthrough came in third place with a decent showing for a Christian film, though its 1.2 million tickets sold is significantly lower than similar miracle-based screen stories like Heaven is for Real (2.7 million) and Miracles from Heaven (1.7 million) despite having a significantly greater critical reception.

Outside of the top 10, Under the Silver Lake managed the best per-screen attendance, indicating that distributor A24 probably shouldn’t have dumped it. Dame Judi Dench had the next best thing with the spy biopic Red Joan. Then there was the best per-screen attendance for nonfiction, which was for Penny Lane’s Hail Satan? Disney won the top spot for documentary grosses over the weekend, however, with the latest nature film, Penguins. It may be the brand’s best yet (according to our sister site, Nonfics), but the Ed Helms-narrated film had Disneynature’s worst debut in their 10-year existence with fewer than 400,000 tickets sold since it opened on Wednesday.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. The Curse of La Llorona — 2.9 million (2.9 million)
2. Shazam! — 1.8 million (13.3 million)
3. Breakthrough —1.2 million (1.6 million)
4. Captain Marvel – 1 million (44.3 million)
5. Little — 0.9 million (3.2 million)
6. Dumbo – 0.7 million (11.2 million)
7. Pet Sematary — 0.5 million (5.5 million)
8. Us – 0.4607 million (18.9 million)
9. Missing Link — 0.4604 million (1.4 million)
10. Hellboy — 0.44 million (2.2 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.