What began as a modest haunted house story, inspired by the real-life paranormal investigations of controversial figures Ed and Lorraine Warren, has grown into one of the most lucrative horror franchises in years. “The Conjuring” and its sequels, prequels and spin-offs are blockbuster horror movies, but they are not all created equal.
9. “Annabelle” (2014)
The evil doll named Annabelle was introduced in the first “Conjuring” as the most wicked trinket in the Warren Family vault of horrors, but you wouldn’t know it from watching her first solo film. “Annabelle” takes place in the apartment an impossibly boring family, where the struggling housewife (Annabelle Wallis, “The Mummy”) gradually realizes that their newest collectible doll is evil. It’s a film devoid of genuine dread, which relies entirely on predictable “boo” scares to get a rise out of the audience.
8. ‘The Curse of La Llorona” (2019)
Michael Chaves’ film wasn’t advertised as an official “Conjuring” spin-off, but one of the characters from “Annabelle” shows up, and there’s a flashback to that infernal doll, so it counts. Unfortunately, this movie isn’t very good. Linda Cardellini plays a social worker who accidentally picks up an evil Mexican ghost from one of her clients, and has to enlist an unconventional former priest (Raymond Cruz) to expel the invading spirit. “The Curse of La Llorona” has a few good scares, but they’re repeated ad infinitum, and the story practically flees from the religious and cultural themes that could have given it weight.
7. “The Nun II” (2023)
Michael Chaves’s sequel to “The Nun” arrives not with a bang, but with a wimple. This mostly inert sequel finds Taissa Farmiga returning as Sister Irene, on a mission to clean up the mess left after the first film, facing off once again with Valak, who’s been haunting a boarding school. A wan storyline, peppered with occasionally startling but most silly jump scares, culminates in an amusingly ridiculous finale. Despite Farmiga’s expert performance, this alternately nonsensical and insipid horror sequel nun-derwhelms, succeeding only in making the absurd original look better — or at least more entertaining — by comparison.
6. “The Nun” (2018)
Corin Hardy’s “Conjuring” sequel features nifty monster effects and spooky locations, but it plays more like a gothic adventure than a horror movie. And as a gothic adventure, it’s uneven, waffling haphazardly between gross, goofy and grim. Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga star as agents of the Vatican, investigating the mysterious death of a nun, only to discover that the isolated convent is actually a prison for an ancient evil. “The Nun” is fast-paced, and certainly never boring, but the total lack of subtlety makes it hard to take seriously, let alone get scared.
5. “The Conjuring 2” (2016)
Sequelitis strikes in “The Conjuring 2,” an effective but bloated follow-up that features more demons, more domestic strife, and more audacious shocks. Once again, Ed and Lorraine Warren find themselves in a based-on-a-true-ghost-story: The Enfield Poltergeist, which tormented a working-class family in the late 1970s. It’s a nail-biter, with some standout set pieces and terrifying villains, but director James Wan crams so much content into one film that the pacing can’t help but suffer.
4. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021)
Michael Chaves takes over the “Conjuring” franchise proper with “The Devil Made Me Do It,” a classy and handsomely photographed installment that finds the Warrens defending a young man accused of murder, using demonic possession as his implausible “not guilty” plea. Although the story spirals off in too many directions, Chaves wisely sticks to the old-fashioned detective genre, decorating an already intriguing whodunit with eerie supernatural elements and striking set pieces.
3. “Annabelle Comes Home” (2019)
All the demons from the Warrens’ creepy artifact room get unleashed, and it’s scary as hell, but that’s not selling point of “Annabelle Comes Home.” Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife take center stage as intriguing, complex, often melancholic teens whose soul-searching slumber party gets interrupted by fantastic and inventive nightmares. Those demons are obviously set-ups for future installments, but the film is satisfying on its own, thanks to a smart script by Gary Dauberman, who also makes his directorial debut. The worst you can say about “Annabelle Comes Home” is that it drags a bit in the middle, but it the bravura third act more than makes up for that.
2. “Annabelle: Creation” (2017)
The prequel to the first “Conjuring” prequel is a rollercoaster of a horror movie, a scary and surprising crowd-pleaser that finally does the creepy doll proud. A group of orphans move into a home with a strange family, whose daughter died tragically, and after one of the young girls discovers a spooky doll in the deceased child’s bedroom, all hell breaks loose. David F. Sandberg knows how to build suspense and how to pay off that eeriness in unexpected, popcorn-spilling explosions of nightmare fuel.
1. “The Conjuring” (2013)
The original “The Conjuring” is still the classiest, spookiest, most satisfying film in the franchise. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are wholly believable as real-life supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who take on a terrifying new job when a troubled, working-class family moves in with an evil spirit. “The Conjuring” subtly builds a mythology while telling a satisfying, terrifying, self-contained ghost story, with a standout performance from Lili Taylor as the matriarch whose pent-up anxieties become disturbing realities. James Wan took the operatic style he developed for the “Insidious” movies, and this time uses it as a counterpoint to plausible, dramatic subtlety. It’s Wan’s best film, and a modern horror classic.