The Conjuring is the first horror movie franchise to do for scary movies what Marvel did for comic book films.
Thanks to James Wan’s original 2013 installment, Warner Bros. and New Line have found a way to create a shared universe around based-on-real-life paranormal investigators The Warrens (RIP to Lorraine Warren, who passed away today at the age of 92) and the various supernatural threats they face that push into our world. The Conjuring Universe has become a standard bearer for fans of the genre, consistently churning out hit after hit. As The Curse of La Llorona hits theaters this weekend — and with Conjuring 3 on the way — we decided to rank every movie so far in this frightening series.
6. ‘The Curse Of La Llorona’ (2019)
What could have been called Jump Scare: The Movie, The Curse of La Llorona is a fright fest built on the backs of thinner characters than we normally get from the Conjurverse forced to make emotionally dishonest choices in service of a relatively predictable plot. The chilling design of La Llorona and a white-knuckle sequence involving characters terrorized in their car are the few bright spots of this latest entry in the franchise. Still, it touches upon the potential of a much wider Conjurverse and is a solid jumping in point for anyone who wants to dip their toe in the waters of horror.
5. ‘The Nun’ (2018)
The Nun features above-average production design for a low-budget horror movie and some interesting set pieces, considering the movie’s villain is based on a gag (a painting) from Conjuring 2. Featuring the best cast outside of the mothership franchise, with stars Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga (sister to Conjuring‘s Vera) more than game to elevate the material, The Nun limps along as it dives into the history of the demonic panting’s subject matter going all the way back to 1952 Romania, which was, admittedly, a really interesting premise. Fans seemed to enjoy the movie, however — it grossed $400 million worldwide on a budget of $22 million.
4. ‘Annabelle’ (2014)
The Warrens’ trophy room, a museum of nightmare fuel, is natural fodder for horror spinoffs. Especially the demented doll Annabelle. The first Annabelle movie falls short of tapping fully into that potential, getting marred in an origin story for the doll that fails to excite or terrify outside of a few jolts woven throughout one too many worn horror clichés. The doll would have to wait for her prequel-sequel to get the movie she — and fans — deserved.
3. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ (2017)
A surprise both commercially and critically, Annabelle: Creation is much better — and scarier — than it has any right to be. A prequel to the first film (which itself was a prequel), this second installment in the Annabelle series is as creepy as it is emotionally gripping.
Set in mid-20th century rural Texas, Creation hooks viewers in instantly with its showcase of the doll’s physical creation and how she set about terrorizing her first victims. While the cast is largely forgettable, they do service the movie’s considerable dramatic scenes. Creation does an engaging (if, at times, uneven) job of balancing the emotional stakes with the jump scares, especially when Annabelle haunts a house full of things that go bump in the night.
2. ‘The Conjuring 2’ (2016)
Horror movie sequels usually fall short — sometimes very short — of the quality of the original. The Conjuring 2 is an exception to that rule; in fact, this inspired (and terrifying) sequel sometimes surpasses the original. This time, the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) head to England to investigate the infamous 1977 Enfield Poltergeist and find themselves trapped in one of the scariest haunted houses in horror history.
Director James Wan can pull off the nighttime scare scenes in his sleep, but where his real interest and talent lie are in dramatizing the quiet beats in between all the terrifying ones. Wilson delivers a tender, heartfelt and vulnerable performance as a husband trying to stay connected with his family as evil spirits threaten to tear apart another he must help save. The emotional stakes for the Warrens are just as high as the fear factor here, making Conjuring 2 one of the best sequels the genre has ever produced.
1. ‘The Conjuring’ (2013)
James Wan made a name and brand for himself with this sleeper summer hit from 2013.
Ed and Lorraine Warren take on their version of the Amityville Horror, and Wan grounds their paranormal investigation — and the supernatural forces attacking matriarch Lili Taylor and her family — with deft direction and a scary-good sense of pacing. (And that “clap game” scene is an all-timer on the list of movie nightmare fuel.) The movie is most successful when its spending downtime with the Warrens and the family they struggle to protect from true evil. The emotional toll their job takes on them feels palpable, Wan makes it so every small victory they earn or panicked breath they take feels like one of our own. Few horror movies come out of the gate so fully formed and accomplished as this one. If only more entries would follow The Conjuring‘s lead.