LOS ANGELES — The House That Freddy Krueger Built officially has its horror mojo back.
New Line Cinema, a Warner Bros. division focused on “genre” films, or inexpensive movies that stick to carefully defined categories, achieved its first runaway success in the 1980s, when it introduced the razor-fingered Krueger in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” That movie spawned eight sequels, a franchise that took in more than $700 million in North America, after adjusting for inflation.
After a period when other studios dominated the horror business — Lionsgate with “Saw,” Paramount with “Paranormal Activity,” Blumhouse with “The Purge” and others — New Line has lately mounted a comeback. The latest evidence came over the weekend, when “Annabelle: Creation,” the fourth installment in New Line’s “Conjuring” series, arrived to roughly $35 million in ticket sales at North American theaters, easily enough for No. 1.
Rather improbably — a long line of sequels have underperformed this year — turnout was on par with the first “Annabelle,” which had $37 million in opening-weekend ticket sales in 2014 and went on to collect $257 million worldwide. “Annabelle: Creation,” which received substantially better reviews than its series predecessor, cost about $15 million to make.
All told, the “Conjuring-verse,” as Hollywood has come to call this constellation of movies, offers a master class in how to build a franchise at a time when audiences are demanding something original from sequels.
“The Conjuring,” released in 2013 and directed by James Wan (“Saw”), stood out in part because of its period setting and real-life connection; it dramatized an incident reported by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in New England in the 1970s. Then came “Annabelle” in 2014, which was based on a haunted prop seen only momentarily in “The Conjuring.” Next up: “The Conjuring 2,” which arrived last year and again focused on the Warrens, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga — only this time they were investigating an unrelated case in Britain.
“Annabelle: Creation,” directed by David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out,” another recent New Line horror hit), is a prequel. Warner backed it with a full-frills advertising campaign — billboards, stunts designed to stir up online chatter — that combined to hammer home one message: This was a quality movie, not just some throwaway possessed-doll schlock dumped in the doldrums of summer. Based on its opening performance, “Annabelle: Creation” will easily push the “Conjuring” series past $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide.
New Line, which declined to make its leaders, Richard Brener and Carolyn Blackwood, available for an interview, next will expand this series with “The Nun,” a movie based on a character from “The Conjuring 2” and scheduled for release next summer.
And the revitalized New Line horror machine may well strike gold again on Sept. 8 with a new adaptation of “It,” Stephen King’s novel about a demon who poses as Pennywise, a child-killing clown. The first trailer for “It” broke online viewing records when it was released in March.
For the weekend, “Dunkirk” (Warner) chugged away in second place, taking in about $11.4 million, for a four-week total of $153.7 million, according to comScore. “The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature” (Open Road) was third, selling roughly $8.9 million in tickets, a 54 percent decline from initial results for its 2014 predecessor.
Also of note: “The Glass Castle” (Lionsgate), an adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir, took in $4.9 million, for a paltry ninth-place arrival. Lionsgate must now hope that light competition in the weeks ahead allows “The Glass Castle” to gain traction among its target audience of older women. “Ricki and the Flash,” for instance, arrived to $6.6 million in August 2015 and wobbled to $26.8 million in domestic ticket sales in total.
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