“Annabelle,” the demon doll spinoff from last year’s breakout hit “The Conjuring,” opens Friday and analysts are projecting it will take in roughly $25 million for Warner Bros. and New Line over the weekend.
That would easily be the top opening of the year for the genre. None of the six horror films released this year has cracked $20 million in its opening or risen past $32 million at the domestic box office. Success is often cyclical in Hollywood, but horror movies entering a box-office dead zone is surprising, since last year was one of the best ever for the genre.
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In 2013, both “The Conjuring” and “Insidious: Chapter 2” opened to more than $40 million and took in $318 million and $162 million worldwide respectively. Those films, along with Guillermo del Toro-produced “Mama” ($28 million), Fede Alvarez‘s “Evil Dead” ($27 million) and “Texas Chainsaw 3D” ($21 million), all debuted at No. 1.
“Nothing has really gotten the horror crowd excited this year,” Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap, “and nothing has come close to getting mainstream moviegoers.
“The biggest horror movies that worked last year were ‘based on a true story’ and that’s a universal theme that makes a difference, kind of like a killer doll. But they were also really well-made movies that stood up with moviegoers outside the genre.”
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If the R-rated “Annabelle” can beat out “Gone Girl,” the Ben Affeck thriller that opens Friday as well, it will be the first horror movie to top the box office this year. It’s tracking in ahead of “Gone Girl” and its social media signs are impressive. It’s just behind where “The Conjuring” was in terms of Twitter mentions, but has more than five times the Facebook “likes” five days prior to its debut, according to BoxOffice.com.
It’s worth noting that box-office breakouts aren’t required for profitability, since many horror movies are made on the relative cheap. “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” opened to $18 million in January, the lowest debut in the franchise history, and topped out with a soft $32 million domestically and a $91 million global gross. But its production budget was just $7 million, so Paramount Pictures cried all the way to the bank.
The John Leonetti-directed “Annabelle” is in the same price range, with a $6.5 million budget. The flip side of that business model is that most horror movies are very front-loaded at the box office, and very few play well long enough to rack up blockbuster-sized grosses.
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Among those keeping a close eye on “Annabelle” this weekend will be executives at Universal Pictures, which opens the action-horror epic “Dracula Untold” next week, and the spooky “Quija” two weeks later.
“I think ‘Dracula Untold’ is going to do well, because it’s an origin story on a theme that everyone knows, and there’s curiosity about how Universal is going to handle these remakes of their classic characters.”