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The term "cinematic universe" has become somewhat ubiquitous in recent years, but few franchises have truly mastered it yet. Sure, superhero films have it down to a science at this point, but there's one other major film series that has thrived as a cohesive unit when other franchises of a similar ilk have faltered: The Conjuring. The brainchild of horror master James Wan, the series started out as little more than an unexpected horror hit in 2013. However, it has since spawned an ever-expanding world of ghouls and supernatural terror, which will continue with the release of Annabelle: Creation on August 11 and continue with solo films for The Nun, as well as The Crooked Man.
With the theatrical release of Annabelle: Creation set for this weekend, and with the fourth entry in The Conjuring universe already garnering some great critical buzz, we think now is the right time to dive in and examine why this franchise is actually one of Hollywood's most promising cinematic landscapes. Check out our reasons, and give us your thoughts on this spooky franchise in the comments section below!
Low Budgets Allow Them To Take Risks
Conventional wisdom dictates that a movie with a higher budget will usually take a more traditional (and less risky) approach to its narrative. The reason for this is simple: a studio doesn't want to risk a nine-figure budget on a film that might not earn its money back. In the case of The Conjuring (and most horror movies, for that matter), the studio hasn't encountered that issue. Filmmakers can make these movies on shoestring budgets, which means each entry in the ever-expanding Conjuring universe can tinker with the genre, setting, visual style and level of graphic intensity. Even the original Annabelle (the worst reviewed entry in the franchise) made its meager $6.5 million budget back almost 40 times over. Horror lends itself to a smaller budget, and that creates an environment where risk and innovation are rewarded rather than punished.
They Pick The Right Creative Talent
When it comes to a cinematic universe, success can hinge upon the person at the top who guides the creative vision. For Marvel, that person is Kevin Feige. For DC, that person is Geoff Johns. For The Conjuring films, that person is James Wan. Enlisting Wan to kick this universe off with 2013's The Conjuring was nothing short of genius, and the horror icon (responsible for similarly scary hits like Insidious and Saw) has helped maintain an excellent sense of tonal cohesion and quality control on most of these films. Even when James Wan hasn't been able to step behind the camera to personally direct them, the studio has still managed to find talented artists to step in with a style that feels distinct from Wan, but similarly delivers the scares -- such as David F. Sandberg, the man behind Annabelle: Creation.
The Core Concept Is Broad Enough To Sustain A Full Universe
Now that superhero films have cracked the cinematic universe code, it seems that every studio wants to get in on the action. However, not every franchise lends itself to this idea, and we have seen some seriously outlandish pitches in recent months, such as a James Bond universe and a John Wick universe. That's what makes a Conjuring cinematic universe so utterly refreshing; the franchise leans on an incredibly broad concept of supernatural horror, and each film can feel distinct from what that preceded it because they don't have a lot of narrative weight to carry forward from movie to movie. Half of the entries in The Conjuring universe haven't even featured The Warrens, and they still worked because the only necessary element that a good Conjuring film needs to have is an abundance of well-crafted scares.
The Continuity Enhances The Stories...
One of the most fundamental aspects of The Conjuring franchise that sets it apart from other horror movies (or horror movie franchises, for that matter) is the fact that it's a cohesive universe in which continuity is recognized between films. That's not something that we see very often from this spooky genre, and the knowledge of an overarching timeline anchored by the presence of Ed and Lorraine Warren enhances The Conjuring franchise and its spinoffs. The Annabelle doll and her burgeoning franchise is a perfect example of that idea in action. Watching any installment in The Conjuring universe that features Annabelle is instantly unnerving because every new movie deepens the mythology of the character. She has never said a word or even visibly moved on-screen, but the growing continuity of these films helps audiences understand where she comes from and the type of evil lurking in this world.
...But It Isn't Required To Appreciate Each Film
That said, these films avoid an issue faced by most other cinematic universes because continuity is not essential to enjoying every installment in the franchise. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DCEU, The Conjuring universe doesn't appear to build towards a climactic event that requires an in-depth knowledge of every character and monster that has ever appeared. Instead, each installment in this series works as a standalone with a definitive beginning, middle and end. While maintaining a knowledge of the underlying Conjuring universe will almost certainly enhance the viewing experience, you can watch any of these films without seeing any of the others, and you will still be able to understand the story that a movie presents you with. That not only makes it easier on existing audiences, but it will also make the franchise far less intimidating to newcomers as new films enter The Conjuring mythos.
Horror Is A Less Competitive Genre Right Now
We often hear people in the film industry talk about the concept of "superhero fatigue" whenever comic book films come up, but few ever discuss the possibility that audiences are burning out on horror movies. That's because the world of horror is arguably far less competitive at the moment. Because The Conjuring films cost so little to produce, and because they tend to outperform other horror films critically, this series finds itself in a spot where there aren't many other franchises around to challenge its dominance. Beyond that, the genre is simply so malleable that it's hard to imagine these movies cannibalizing each other at the box office. Horror fans tend to be a relatively passionate bunch, which is why movies like Lights Out and The Conjuring 2 can debut less than a month apart from one another and still do good business.