Like a troubled spirit reluctant to pass through to the Great Beyond, “The Conjuring” has refused to shuffle quietly into box-office irrelevancy.
And in the course of running its domestic gross up to $108 million over the past weekend, New Line's $19.5 million haunted house tale has become one of the summer’s most profitable and surprising movies for Warner Bros. To put that in perspective, sometime this week it will surpass the $114 million domestic gross of "The Hangover Part III," which had a production budget around $100 million.
The audience for the intensely creepy "Conjuring" fell off just 47 percent this past weekend, its third in release. The weekend before that, it dropped just 38 percent from its stunning $41 million debut at No. 1 on July 19-21.
Dropping less than 50 percent from week-to-week is impressive for any film, but for a horror movie, it’s extraordinary. Ardent genre fans typically come out the first weekend a movie is out; that “The Conjuring” is still drawing crowds indicates it has crossed over to the mainstream – in a big way.
To capitalize on that, Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman made the decision to up the theater count from the 2,903 it opened in to 3,022 for the second weekend — and 3,115 this past weekend. Opening it in summer — normally the domain of big-budget superhero movies — was a bit of a leap, too.
"Sometimes you have to roll the dice a little and I brough the idea to Toby (Emmerich, New Line's president) and he said go for it," Fellman said.
Emmerich said that after the first test screenings it was clear the studio had a really strong movie on its hands that would justify special handling.
"It clearly had the elements that would result in good reviews, so we were very aggressive with early screenings, and that got the word-of-mouth going," he said. "It was a horror film, but nobody dies and the execution and acting is such that it played much more like a classy thriller than an exploitation film."
The rest could be box office history. "The Conjuring" just passed "Paranormal Activity" on the list of all-time highest-grossing supernatural horror movies, and if it can go beyond $140 million domestically, it will trail only "The Sixth Sense," "The Exorcist" and "What Lies Beneath," according to Box Office Mojo.
“The Conjuring’ is based on a true story about paranormal investigators who come to the aid of a family that was experiencing disturbing events at their Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971. When the movie drew headlines with its big opening, it triggered a slew of news features and online chatter, and that provided even more mainstream momentum.
The critics loved it — it has an 86 percent positive rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes — and TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde called it "a modern horror classic."
First weekend audiences gave “The Conjuring” an “A-” CinemaScore, unusually high for a horror movie,
While genuinely scary – the MPAA rated it R for “disturbing violence and terror – “The Conjuring” is devoid of sex and real gore. That has made it more palatable for audiences in general and especially women, who are a big part of most successful horror films’ target demographic and made up 53 percent of the first-weekend crowd for “The Conjuring.”
So, will there be a "Conjuring 2"?
It's not official yet, but Emmerich said the studio, producer and cast were all on board with the idea. Getting the director back might be tricky — Wan has signed on to direct "Fast & Furious 7."
For now, however, Emmerich, Fellman and the rest of the team at Warner Bros. can enjoy the run of their summer hit. And this time, it's not with a megabudget superhero extravaganza.
"It's nice to be the underdog once in a while," Emmerich said.