Friday was the first day of the Fourth Quarter and as is typical, horror movies have taken center stage in the lead-up to Halloween. For more details on the entire slate of upcoming movies, check out our Fourth Quarter 2023 Preview, published today.
Blumhouse and Universal’s THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER took first place with an opening weekend gross of $27.2M. Together with THE NUN 2 which arrived on 9/8, these two horror films have led the box office in four out of the last five weekends.
All movies this weekend earned $72.8M, compared with $61.6M in the first weekend of October last year when SMILE led the pack by earning $18.5M in its second weekend, a decline of only 18% from its opening weekend.
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER is the sixth MOVIE in a franchise that began 50 years ago with the release of THE EXORCIST on 12/26/1973, playing initially in only 24 theatres. The movie was based on a best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty, telling the story of a 12-year-old girl who is possessed by demons, and her mother’s desperate attempt to save her by enlisting two Catholic priests to perform an exorcism.
The original movie became a cultural phenomenon, with media reports describing long ticket lines at virtually every theatre where it played. Of course, this was long before moviegoers could purchase tickets online, or even in advance, and reports of people waiting outside in the December cold to buy tickets sparked even more interest in the movie.
Word began to spread that some of those who got in to see the movie were so shocked by graphic scenes that they suffered adverse physical reactions, including fainting and vomiting. Some thought the movie should have received an X rating instead of the R it wound up with, accusing the ratings board of the MPAA of colluding with Warner Bros. to obtain the softer rating. As distribution expanded, several U.S. cities attempted to ban the picture outright, unsuccessfully.
THE EXORCIST went on to gross $232.6M at U.S. and Canadian theatres, including results from re-releases in 2000, 2010, 2021, and 2023. After adjusting for inflation, THE EXORCIST is the top-grossing R-rated film of all time and the ninth highest of any film.
This success encouraged studios to make a number of movies with similar themes, including THE OMEN, THE SENTINEL, BURNT OFFERINGS, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. THE EXORCIST was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and won for Best Screenplay by William Peter Blatty. Aficionados of the genre consider THE EXORCIST to be one of the best horror movies ever.
There are many cases of movies that achieve great success in their original form but struggle to find the magic again in subsequent sequels and spin-offs. Before this year, THE EXORCIST spawned two sequels EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977) and THE EXORCIST III (1990), and two prequels EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) and DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (2005).
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING was the highest-grossing movie among these followers, but its $41.8M domestic gross was only 18% of that earned by the original. DOMINION: PREQUAL TO THE EXORCIST earned a pathetic $251K, making it clear that the franchise needed to go away, at least for a while.
In June of 2020, Blumhouse Productions acquired rights to the intellectual property and set about to create a trilogy of new movies, beginning with THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER. In a nod to the original, Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair have returned to play Chris and Regan MacNeil.
The plot follows a photographer who comes face to face with evil when his daughter and her best friend are possessed. The production budget was a very economical $30M, which is only slightly higher than the box office it has taken in over its first three days. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most critics dislike the movie, giving it a damning score of 23% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Perhaps even more troubling is that moviegoers are displeased with it as well, offering a dismal 54% audience score. The second film of the trilogy is already in development, THE EXORCIST: DECEIVER which is scheduled to open on 4/12/2025.
Paramount’s PAW PATROL: THE MIGHTY MOVIE continued to enjoy a successful run in theatres by earning $11.8M, a drop of only 48% from last weekend’s debut. Positive word-of-mouth is having its effect, with audiences giving a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The Pups have already grossed $38.9M in ten days, compared with its 2021 predecessor PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE which earned $24.2M in its first ten days.
The earlier film played particularly well in international markets, where it earned 72% of its worldwide gross. If the current movie reproduces this same success abroad, THE MIGHTY MOVIE could become a global hit, and highly profitable considering its modest production budget of $30M. It will have the young family market all to itself for the next six weeks until TROLLS: BAND TOGETHER arrives on 11/17.
Lionsgate’s SAW X finished in third place in its second week in theatres, earning $8.2M and dropping 55% from last weekend. A steep decline was expected, as THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER stepped in to attract the same demographic. After ten days, SAW X has grossed $32.6M, which compares to the original SAW movie that earned $35.4M after ten days and went on to a total of $55.2M domestically and $103.1M worldwide.
Lionsgate is to be commended for producing a movie on a shoestring budget that has been well-received by audiences, spending only $13M to make the film and scoring 87% on Rotten Tomatoes with audiences.
20th Century’s THE CREATOR fell to fourth place with a gross of $6.1M and a significant drop of 57%. This original Sci-Fi film has grossed $24.9M domestically in ten days, which must be somewhat alarming to its studio considering that $80M was spent to make the movie. By our calculation, THE CREATOR will only break even if it earns $200M, which is in doubt since starting next week audiences will be transfixed by TAYLOR SWIFT: THE ERAS TOUR.
Finishing in fifth place for the second weekend in a row is the Fathom Events film THE BLIND, which earned $3.1M, and dropped by only 28%. A fifth-place finish is a remarkable achievement, given that this movie is in its second weekend and is playing at 23% fewer locations, down to 1,317 compared with last week’s 1,715.
Who would have imagined that Phil Robertson would draw audiences to theatres in 2023 after his highest profile role in Duck Dynasty ended in 2017 when that series went off the air? We congratulate Fathom for bringing out this new release and theatre owners for giving him a shot.
WHERE ARE WE AS OF 10/05
After 39 weeks, the 2023 year-to-date totals are 126% of the amount earned at this point in 2022, and 85% compared with 2019.