This past weekend was the theatrical debut of the highly-anticipated horror movie The Nun, the fifth installment of the franchise collectively labeled The Conjuring Universe. A direct prequel spinoff of The Conjuring 2, the new film centers around the investigation into a nun’s suicide in Romania. The Vatican sends a priest (Demián Bichir) with a dark past of his own, along with the young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), to look into the mysterious death. Along the way, they begin to unravel an unholy secret and come face to face with a powerful demonic presence.
Naturally, there was a great deal of buzz around The Nun, helped by some pretty shocking advertising online. Ever since The Conjuring premiered back in 2013, bolstered by positive critic and audience responses, horror fans have flocked to the subsequent films in the franchise. The opening weekend ticket sales of The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle have all been around 5 million each, with last year’s Annabelle: Creation bringing up the rear at just under 4 million tickets sold. The Nun’s debut attendance surpassed all four previous films, according to Box Office Mojo, with a whopping 5.7 million tickets sold, putting the movie in first place.
For those who like gross figures instead of attendance numbers, that chart-topping success is to the tune of $53.5 million, compared to the previous franchise best of $41.9 million made by the first Conjuring installment five years ago — and even adjusted for inflation it’s better than The Conjuring‘s recalculated $49.5 million.
On its first night alone The Nun was bringing peak numbers for the franchise, with more than 2.3 million moviegoers in attendance. The latest addition to The Conjuring Universe then exceeded its weekend projections (Box Office Pro’s long-range forecast put attendance at about 4.3 million, and even last week’s prediction was up only to about 4.8 million) to quickly cement its place as the biggest hit of the franchise, as far as the films’ openings. Interesting enough, this record high attendance for The Nun has so far also been paired with a relatively poor reception for the breakout spinoff.
Both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 received a high grade of ‘A-‘ via first-nite polling of moviegoers by CinemaScore. As for the spinoffs Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, they both received a ‘B’ grade. The series dipped even further in its favor with audiences, particularly that initially drawn franchise fanbase, with The Nun receiving an unfortunate ‘C’ grade. Were expectations too high or is the movie that bad?
Well, the experts claimed the latter. Three of the previous four movies of the franchise have pretty positive Rotten Tomatoes scores, with The Conjuring’s 86% being the highest, followed by The Conjuring 2 with 79% and Annabelle: Creation with 70% — the only exception so far had been Annabelle, which has a frightful score of 29%. The Nun‘s reviews have been the worst yet, however, receiving a score of 28%.
The critical reception is almost equal to Annabelle, which was heavily critiqued back in 2014 for having a relatively weak storyline and a reliance on jump scares. It may have fared so poorly in this way due to the incredibly positive response to its prior film, The Conjuring. And the same could be said, conversely, with its initial anticipation from fans. Both that film and The Nun share an impressive starting box office performance while suffering in terms of actual reviews. Ultimately, though, Annabelle wound up the lowest-grossing movie of the series.
Obviously, this could just be the opening weekend fans who did not like the film. There is a lot of time for it to reach many new audiences who may have a completely different response and opinion. The fact remains that The Nun has altogether broken the Conjuring Universe record ticket sales — a pretty big deal considering the success of the original The Conjuring itself. Whether it will go the distance as the most successful installment overall remains to be seen.
There’s always the possibility that it will lose massive amounts of steam should the first round of audiences find it as disappointing as fans did on opening night. The CinemaScore grade should correlate with bad word of mouth and Friday’s frontloaded attendance (42% of the weekend total) indicates a lack of staying power. But anything could happen. The Conjuring Franchise may have either struck new trilogy gold with this faith-based horror film or instead released a merely momentarily successful movie that’s a disappointment overall.
Here are the weekend top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new titles in bold and totals in parentheses:
1. The Nun – 5.7 million (5.7 million)
2. Crazy Rich Asians – 1.4 million (14.5 million)
3. Peppermint – 1.4 million (1.4 million)
4. The Meg – 0.6 million (14 million)
5. Searching – 0.5 million (1.5 million)
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – 0.4 million (22.6 million)
7. Christopher Robin – 0.34 million (9.8 million)
8. Operation Finale – 0.32 million (1.5 million)
9. Alpha – 0.27 million (3.5 million)
10. BlacKkKlansman – 0.17 million (4.6 million)
All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.