With the newest movie in the Conjuring franchise now out, we ranked all eight films so far to determine which ones scared us the most
James Wan brought old-school style scares and tales of spirits and haunted houses back to Hollywood in the early 2010s with The Conjuring and Insidious. The two franchises launched a new wave of horror films and still hold plenty of influence today, from their atmospheres to their clever scare sequences.
The Conjuring kicked off not only its own pair of sequels but a number of spinoffs as well, which explore the origins of some of the demonic entities from the main films. The central trilogy comes from the stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who were a real-life couple that worked together as paranormal investigators. The franchise is now eight films deep with more on the way, and it’s gone through a variety of ups and downs in terms of quality, so we ranked every entry from worst to best, including the latest, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
‘The Curse of La Llorona’
2019’s The Curse of La Llorona tapped into the Latin American legend of “The Weeping Woman” to conjure up some legitimate scares, but it never uses the folklore to stand out amongst the other Conjuring-verse movies. Instead, it’s yet another basic premise of a family under attack from an evil spirit in their home, and it never gets more interesting than the usual haunted house jump scares it goes for (the best of which were already shown in trailers). It feels like a franchise on autopilot and audiences could seemingly tell – despite still making a profit, it became the lowest-earning entry for the Conjuring universe.
The very first spinoff of the franchise, coming out just one year after the original Conjuring, Annabelle would become a franchise all its own. The creepy doll is now an instantly recognizable horror icon, but her first solo movie was a bit of a rocky start. The film follows a young couple, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), who become the target of a gang of cultists, and the doll meant for their newborn daughter becomes the vessel to a summoned demon. Set at the start of the Satanic panic, the period setting is a fun touch and the film does make you care about the two main characters. There’s also more of a psychological angle to the scares – unlike the other Conjuring-verse movies where the fact that ghosts and such exist is never questioned, Annabelle allows for some speculation as to whether there’s a literal demon haunting Mia or whether it’s all in her head. Sadly, what good will the film garners is completely ruined by its extremely awkward and problematic ending.
2018’s The Nun is the highest-grossing film of the entire Conjuring franchise, likely thanks to its sufficiently scary trailer and its divergence from both the main Conjuring and Annabelle films. Set in 1952 Romania, the film stars Taissa Farmiga as a young nun sent to help investigate the apparent suicide of another nun at an abbey. It has a cool atmosphere with its ancient castle-like location and some solid scares, but the further it goes, the duller it gets. There’s just not much there beyond its attempts to make you jump, and it winds up being the safest and most forgettable of the franchise.
‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’
The third main Conjuring film to follow Ed and Lorraine’s adventures and the first to not be directed by James Wan, The Devil Made Me Do It becomes as long-winded as its title. Based on the real 1981 murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Jackson, who killed his landlord and claimed that he was possessed by a demon, the film has the Warrens seeking to prove Arne’s innocence. But they end up uncovering a series of other murder that suggest someone has been meddling in the occult with deadly consequences. The film mostly abandons the tried-and-true haunted house formula of the previous entries, and instead plays more like a serial killer mystery than a true horror film. There’s potential for that to work, and these movies needed to try branching out a bit at some point, but there’s not much to latch onto. Farmiga and Wilson are as good as they’ve ever been, but neither of them have any real arc in the film. They’re also separated from the central family that’s being haunted for most it, losing the caring warmth that the couple brings and how their main goal is helping people who have no one else to turn to. It’s fun to see the movie have a legitimate villain who the Warrens have to battle in a bit of supernatural action, but they’re not given much in terms of character to work with either. The film’s opening scene of a botched exorcism is great, but its largely downhill from there.
David F. Sandberg’s 2017 Annabelle prequel showed that the series still had plenty of potential to be genuinely terrifying. Sandberg stages some of the best scares since the original Conjuring and has the frachise’s most sympathetic characters – a group of young orphan girls with literally nowhere to go. What’s most horrifying is that the evil spirit this time around is actually out for blood and able to cause bodily harm, unlike most haunted house flicks where the ghosts seem content to just mess with their victims by making noise and rearranging some furniture. But this also turns Annabelle: Creation into the cruelest of the series, and its desire for hopelessness is a bit too bleak by the film’s end. It ends up just feeling mean.
‘Annabelle Comes Home’
The third Annabelle movie takes place entirely in the Warrens’ home, and even features Farmiga and Wilson appearing for the first time in the spin-off series. Taking place not long after the Annabelle doll is added to their collection of dangerous supernatural artifacts, the film puts the focus on their daugher, Judy (Mckenna Grace). While her parents are out on a case, a friend of Judy’s babysitter unwittingly releases all of the hostile spirits contained in the artifact room, and the three girls need to survive the night and lock them away again. Annabelle Comes Homes may not be as scary as the other films, but it’s the only one that has an obvious sense of fun about it. It’s a total blast with a genuine heart at its center; as weird as it may sound, it’s almost a feel-good movie.
‘The Conjuring 2’
James Wan returned for this strong sequel to his original film, taking the Warrens overseas to the U.K. to assist a family tormented by the spirit of an old man haunting their shabby council house. Wan proves once again that he’s an undisputed master at putting together horror scenes and playing on audiences’ fears and rhythms, and memorable scares like the Crooked Man pretty much force you to go to bed that evening with a light on. There’s a much more fleshed out emotional arc in the film as well compared to the first. But with a runtime of over two hours, it does feel a good bit overlong, and it makes things start to feel repetitive and stale. Still, The Conjuring 2 proved that the franchise was here to stay, and cemented Ed and Lorraine Warren as two of the most endearing characters in horror.
The 2013 original is a true modern horror masterpiece for a reason. Wan took the classic haunted house approach and made it feel new again, unleashing a variety of clever film techniques to terrify audiences so effectively that it earned the movie an R-rating despite its lack of violence, language or sexual content. The Conjuring is one of those scary movies that genuinely feels like its possessed by some kind of sinister energy, and it snuffs out any chance you might have of peacefully falling asleep that night. And at the heart of it all is the Warrens, whose desire to help a desperate family and love for each other showed that through the terror was a genuine heart as well.