How the 'The Nun' overcame bad reviews to be a hit with audiences, according to a box-office analyst

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the nunWarner Bros.

  • "The Nun" surpassed expectations and had the biggest opening at the box office this past weekend of any of "The Conjuring" movies, despite being the worst-reviewed film in the series.
  • Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, credits the success to a lackluster summer for horror and the movie's foreign appeal.
  • The movie stars Mexican actor Demián Bichir and its biggest foreign opening was in Mexico.
  • Bock also made box-office predictions for this weekend's "The Predator" and next month's "Halloween."

 

"The Nun," the latest movie in "The Conjuring" horror franchise, raked in $53.5 million this past weekend, the highest opening in the series, despite a 27% critic score on review-aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, making it the worst-reviewed film of the series.

Even the well-reviewed "Annabelle: Creation" last year, a prequel to "The Conjuring," couldn't muster that much cash at the box office. In fact, that movie had the worst opening of the entire series.

So how did "The Nun" capture audiences' attention to be both a domestic and foreign box-office success?

Jeff Bock, the senior box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider it was a combination of a lackluster summer for horror, foreign appeal, and great marketing by the studio, Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. has been attracting foreign audiences

the nunWarner Bros.Demián Bichir in "The Nun"

Warner Bros. had a trio of hits released within a month of each other to close out the summer: "The Meg," "Crazy Rich Asians," and "The Nun." All exceeded initial projections because they appealed to diverse audiences, Bock said.

"The Meg," which was a co-production with a Chinese company and starred multiple Asian actors, has grossed nearly $500 million worldwide. "Crazy Rich Asians," which is the first Hollywood movie in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast, has been a steady force domestically, only dropping 6 and 11% in its second and third weekends after a strong opening. Bock said it's all about casting choices.

"It's the sort of play that many studios have been going after, by not casting people just so it will do well in North America, but throughout the world," Bock said.

"The Nun," meanwhile, appealed to Latino audiences. The movie stars Mexican actor Demián Bichir and had its biggest foreign opening in Mexico with $10.7 million. Spain was among the top markets as well with $3.3 million. The movie has made over $136 million worldwide so far - not bad for a movie with a $22 million budget. 

"Horror films don't traditionally make it into China because censors don't allow a lot of horror films," Bock said.  "But in South America, and Mexico specifically, horror films do really well there."

Moviegoers were deprived of horror this summer

the nunWarner Bros.Taissa Farmiga in "The Nun"

The horror genre is the only genre, outside of Marvel/superhero blockbusters, that consistently gets moviegoers in seats at the theater. "The Nun" continued a win streak for horror that stretches through this year and last, with "Get Out," "It," "A Quiet Place," and even "Hereditary," which may have divided audiences but is A24's biggest box-office hit.

But this summer was lacking for horror fans, according to Bock. 

"We didn't really have a traditional horror film this entire summer," Bock said. "'The First Purge' was more [about just straight-up] violence than [traditional] horror. 'Slender Man' was out there but it had a horrible trailer and awful execution of a really good idea. That one was D.O.A."

Warner Bros. didn't hold back when it came to marketing "The Nun," and took full advantage of its horror qualities and connection to "The Conjuring" universe. YouTube banned a six-second ad for the movie that played before select videos because it violated YouTube's "shocking content policy." That made headlines, but Bock said that the film's full-length trailer  was appealing on its own.

"How many times were you in the theater watching that trailer and heard people scream when that second nun came out?" Bock said. "You knew after seeing that trailer that this was going to catch on with audiences. People love to be scared and they love to go to horror movies in groups and that's an experience you can't get anywhere else but theaters."

Watch the trailer below for yourself:

Looking ahead

"The Conjuring" series has been a reliable presence in theaters since 2013 and now includes five movies: "The Conjuring," "Annabelle," "The Conjuring 2," "Annabelle: Creation," and "The Nun." Bock said that "The Conjuring" series and Blumhouse - which produced "Get Out," "Paranormal Activity," "The Purge" movies, and the upcoming "Halloween" - are the most well-known names in horror among audiences.

That's why Bock predicts that when "Halloween" opens next month, it will make between $50-60 million at the box office.

"No doubt about it, because it's not only a franchise but then you add in Blumhouse which knows how to construct a film and market it," Bock said. "And you're reaching into the past with Jamie Lee Curtis - it's the nostalgia factor."

Once again, casting is important, and it's something that Bock thinks this weekend's "The Predator" got completely wrong.

"If Arnold [Schwarzenegger, who starred in the original "Predator"] was the lead, we'd be talking about a $50 million opening," Bock said. "It could be a sh-- [movie] but people would go see it."

The movie will still open No. 1 at the box office this weekend and dethrone "The Nun," Bock predicted, but he said it won't open to nearly as much as it could have. As for "The Nun," it will probably drop about 55% from its opening, but Bock said that's okay.

"Warner Bros is making great money," he said. "They're not worrying about that drop."

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