How ‘The Nun’ overcame bad reviews to be a box-office hit

  • “The Nun” surpassed expectations this past weekend and had the biggest opening at the box office of any of the “Conjuring” movies, despite being the worst-reviewed film in the series.
  • Jeff Bock, the senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, credits the success to a lacklustre summer for horror and the movie’s foreign appeal.
  • The movie stars a 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 $US53.5 million this past weekend, the highest opening in the series, despite a 27% critic score on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes that made it the worst-reviewed film of the bunch.

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 series.

So how did “The Nun” capture audiences’ attention to succeed both domestically and abroad?

Jeff Bock, the senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider it was a combination of foreign appeal, marketing, and a lacklustre summer for horror.

Warner Bros. has been attracting foreign audiences

The nun
Demián Bichir in ‘The Nun.’ Warner Bros.

The studio Warner Bros. is closing out the summer with three hits released within a month of one another: “The Meg,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “The Nun.” All exceeded projections because they appealed to diverse audiences, Bock said.

“The Meg,” which was a coproduction with a Chinese company and starred multiple Asian actors, has grossed nearly $US500 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, dropping just 6% and 11% in its second and third weekends after a strong opening. Bock said it was 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” appealed to Latino audiences. The movie stars a Mexican actor, Demián Bichir, and had its biggest foreign opening in Mexico, with $US10.7 million. Spain was among the top markets as well, with $US3.3 million. The movie has made over $US136 million worldwide – not bad for a movie with a $US22 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 nun
Taissa Farmiga in ‘The Nun.’ Warner Bros.

Horror is the only genre, perhaps outside the superhero blockbuster, that consistently gets moviegoers in seats at the theatre. “The Nun” continued a win streak for horror that goes back to last year with “Get Out,” “It,” “A Quiet Place,” and even “Hereditary,” which may have divided audiences but is the studio 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 violence than horror. ‘Slender Man’ was out there, but it had a horrible trailer and awful execution of a really good idea. That one was DOA.”

Warner Bros. didn’t hold back when it came to marketing “The Nun,” and it 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 the film’s full-length trailer was appealing on its own.

“How many times were you in the theatre 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 theatres.”

Watch the trailer below for yourself:

Looking ahead

The “Conjuring” series has been a reliable presence in theatres since 2013 and now consists of “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle,” “The Conjuring 2,” “Annabelle: Creation,” and “The Nun.” Bock said the “Conjuring” series and Blumhouse – the company that produced “Get Out,” “Paranormal Activity,” the “Purge” movies, and the coming “Halloween” – are the best-known names in horror among audiences.

That’s why Bock predicts that “Halloween” will make $US50 million to $US60 million at the box office next month in its opening weekend.

“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 Bock thinks this weekend’s “The Predator” got wrong.

“If Arnold was the lead, we’d be talking about a $US50 million opening,” Bock said of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of the original “Predator” film. “It could be a sh–, but people would go see it.”

Bock predicted “The Predator” would still open No. 1 at the box office this weekend and dethrone “The Nun,” but he said it wouldn’t open to nearly as much as it could have. As for “The Nun,” Bock expects it to drop about 55% from its opening, but he said that’s OK.

“Warner Bros. is making great money,” he said. “They’re not worrying about that drop.”