"The Conjuring" is hardly the first horror movie to spawn sequels and spinoffs, but this is the rare franchise to actually maintain a solid reputation over the long haul, creating an immersive, interwoven “universe” – a feat few franchises (outside of Marvel) can accomplish. With new spin-off in “The Curse of La Llarona” opening this week and "The Conjuring 3" on the way, we thought we’d take a look back at the spooky franchise before it enters its next phase.
6. 'The Nun' (2018)
Despite a starry cast (including Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of series mainstay Vera Farmiga) and a more concrete connection to both “The Conjuring” proper and “Annabelle: Creation,” “The Nun” is mostly a dud. Set in 1952 Romania (chosen, undoubtedly, for its mystical atmosphere as much as for the country’s generous tax incentives), it delves into the history of a spooky character introduced as the big bad of “The Conjuring 2.” And while it should have been thrilling, it’s more of a snooze. Not that anybody noticed. This latest entry, released last year, made almost $400 million worldwide on a $22 budget. That’s scary good.
5. 'Annabelle' (2014)
This franchise lends itself naturally to spinoffs, as the first movie revealed that the Warrens have an entire trophy room full of haunted relics, each with a story to be told. Unfortunately, the first spinoff movie didn't do a lot to tap into that potential. "Annabelle" worked to establish the history and origin of this cursed doll. But with so much emphasis on cheap scares and dull horror tropes, "Annabelle" failed to stand out in the way "The Conjuring" did the year before. But maybe that's inevitable when you swap out James Wan for a guy whose first directorial effort was "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation."
4. 'The Curse of La Llarona'
Surprise! “The Curse of La Llarona” is actually part of the “Conjuring” universe! While not sold as a spin-off of the successful franchise (at least not initially), the movie shares the series’ love of moody atmosphere over blood and guts, and features a priest that has appeared in other entries. And you know what? It’s pretty good. The fact that it is based on actual Hispanic folklore instead of some made-up boogieman is really nice, and the central performance by Linda Cardellini is lovely and nuanced.
3. 'Annabelle: Creation' (2017)
Thankfully, the second "Annabelle" movie had a much stronger showing than the first. This prequel-to-a-prequel flashes back even further in time to mid-20th Century rural Texas, showcasing the creation of this demonic doll and its first lineup of victims. While still not quite up to the standard of the mainline "Conjuring" movies, "Creation" still thrives on its tense, psychologically unsettling tone and a house perfect for jump-scares and freak-outs. Its one major failing is that the cast of characters generally isn’t as memorable as those found in the main series.
2. 'The Conjuring' (2013)
In the hands of a lesser director, it's entirely possible that "The Conjuring" would have come and gone as quickly as most other late-summer haunted house movies. There's no denying that this movie deals in a lot of familiar tropes, owing a debt to classics like "The Amityville Horror" (which was also based on a case investigated by ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren). It's all about the execution in this case. WB made the right choice in handing this project to director James Wan. Wan brought a sense of sophistication and craft to the project that resulted in some very effective, bone-chilling scares.
1. 'The Conjuring 2' (2016)
Most horror franchises suffer from diminishing returns over time. It's tough to keep the formula from growing stale and the scares from becoming more and more predictable. Yet somehow, "The Conjuring 2" managed to improve on its predecessor. Part of that is simply down to the shift to a London setting and one of the more spooky movie houses in recent memory. But this sequel also succeeds in building on and enriching the franchise's larger mythology. The struggle of the Warrens becomes just as important as that of the family they're trying to save from a vengeful spirit. And unlike so many other franchise-builders, "The Conjuring 2" never gets so wrapped up in its mythology that it gorgets why moviegoers showed up in the first place. It's a satisfying blend of story and haunted house frights.