WINNER OF THE WEEK: James Wan. The horror auteur behind Saw and Insidious scored a massive home run on an especially competitive weekend. The first weekend in months with as many as four new wide releases, the one that came out on top was Wan's The Conjuring. Despite being a modestly-budgeted ($20 million) movie with no franchise ties and no big stars (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Lili Taylor are acclaimed actors but not box office draws), Conjuring beat three more highly-touted wide releases, two of which opened on more screens. According to estimates, it conjured up sales of $41.53 million.
That's a huge opening for any movie this summer, bigger than would-be blockbusters like The Lone Ranger and After Earth (both under $30 million), fellow horror hit The Purge ($34.1 million), and star-driven comedies The Heat ($39.1 million) and Grown Ups 2 (which opened last week with $41.51 million and scored another estimated $20.0 million this weekend, landing in fourth place). It's also far bigger than pundits had predicted; expectations for The Conjuring were in the $26 to $32 million range. Give credit to a clever marketing campaign (with that creepy clip of Taylor playing hide-and-seek with her kids, instead of a traditional trailer), the vogue for "based-in-fact" horror movies, the relative lack of competition (not only were there no other horror movies, but the other wide releases were comparatively weak), and strong word-of-mouth (indicated by an A- at CinemaScore). Oh, and the fact that, by all accounts, it's a genuinely scary movie that delivers on the hype.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Ryan Reynolds. Lest we need further proof that the handsome and talented Canadian is not a box office draw, this week's slate offered two more pieces of evidence. One was his cartoon Turbo, which opened in third place, with an estimated $21.5 million from Friday to Sunday and $31.2 million over the five days since it opened last Wednesday. Compare that to fellow cartoon Despicable Me 2, which is three weeks old but with still finished at Number Two (after spending its first two weeks on top) with an estimated $25.1 million. Both movies are playing on about 3,800 screens, but Despicable Me, after a 43 percent drop from last week's business, is still earning an average of $6,560 per screen, compared to $5,729 per screen for Turbo. It's also less than the $6,134 per-venue average earned by Bruce Willis action comedy sequel RED 2, which opened with an estimated $18.5 million (good for fifth place), but on 800 fewer screens.
An even bigger misfire was Reynolds' supernatural buddy-cop comedy R.I.P.D., which didn't even crack the top five. It had to settle for a seventh-place opening, with an estimated $12.8 million. (That's just $4,475 per screen, on 2,852 screens.) Given the movie's very poor word-of-mouth (it got a C+ at CinemaScore), that $12.8 million is actually not bad; some pundits predicted the movie would open below $10 million. Still, R.I.P.D. cost a reported $130 million to make (Turbo cost $135 million), and neither Reynolds film is likely to come anywhere close to recouping its cost.
A 'LIKELY' STORY: Like last weekend, the continuing outrage over George Zimmerman's acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin helped contribute to the success of the similar-themed Fruitvale Station. It was the top art-house movie this weekend, earning an estimated $742,000 (nearly double last weekend's business), for a two-week total of $1.3 million. The top new movie was Kristen Wiig's family-dysfunction tale Girl Most Likely, just behind Fruitvale with an estimated $736,000. And Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up to Drive, scored an estimated $315,000 debut on 78 screens, a solid number considering that the movie also premiered this weekend on video-on-demand.