“The Conjuring” films have somehow successfully created a $1 billion movie universe

Creator James Wan takes his talents to “Aquaman” next.
Creator James Wan takes his talents to “Aquaman” next.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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A mid-budget horror universe is now one of the most successful in cinema.

The four films set in James Wan’s The Conjuring universe have now grossed more than $1 billion at the global box-office, thanks to the $161 million the latest installment, Annabelle: Creation, brought in from its first few weeks in theaters. And during a disappointing summer at US cinemas, no less.

Annabelle: Creation’s out-of-the-gate success follows that of the first two The Conjuring films and the first spinoff, Annabelle, which focuses on the demonic doll introduced in the previous films. Annabelle: Creation is a prequel that delves further into the doll’s origins. There are at least two more spinoffs in the works based on other characters from The Conjuring universe—The Nun and The Crooked Man.

Unlike the Marvel and DC superhero universes and the growing Star Wars franchise, these movies are much cheaper to make. The most expensive movie in The Conjuring franchise, The Conjuring 2, had a $40 million budget—far less than a Star Wars or a Guardians of the Galaxy film, though some of those movies have grossed $1 billion at the box office on their own.

Other attempts to get creative universes off the ground—and borrow from the success of Marvel’s superhero flicks—haven’t gone nearly as well, and that is with more star power. Universal kicked off its Dark Universe of iconic Hollywood monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein with a reboot of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. It failed to take off this summer. Studio Paramount and toymaker Hasbro hoped to build a universe from their critically panned GI Joe franchise, and are now combining it with other toy brands in an attempt to match success of their Transformers films. And Nintendo announced plans to build its own cinematic universe in-house last year, but few details have yet emerged.

Warner Bros. is borrowing from The Conjuring to get its DC Comics superhero film-verse—which didn’t have a seamless start, either—back on track.

Unlike Marvel’s cinematic universe, which built up comic-book superheroes like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America with separate films and then united them all in The Avengers franchise, The Conjuring universe introduced a cast of creepy characters capable of supporting their own films in its flagship films, and then gradually built franchises for them. That formula gave DC its first critical and commercial hit with Wonder Woman. The superheroine was the breakout star of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and went on to lead an incredibly successful movie that traced her Amazonian origins.

That’s not all that DC is taking from those horror movies. Wan, The Conjuring creator, is directing a film starring Aquaman. And David F. Sandberg, the young filmmaker behind Annabelle: Creation, will direct a later DC title, Shazam!