Forecast (cont.): 'Conjuring' Prequel 'Annabelle' Could Scare Up $30 Million
<< Continued from "Weekend Forecast"

At the domestic box office, at least, Gone Girl will face stiff competition from Annabelle, which opens at 3,185 locations.

The movie's biggest selling point is the fact that it's a prequel to 2013 horror sensation The Conjuring (it shows the origin story of that movie's creepy doll). That movie opened to $41.9 million last July, then held well on its way to a $137.4 million total. It has had a robust post-theatrical life as well, and currently has a strong 7.5 rating on IMDb (in comparison, Insidious and Sinister both have a 6.8 rating).

Aside from highlighting the Conjuring connection ("Before The Conjuring, there was Annabelle"), marketing has attempted to highlight Annabelle's scares by showing audience reactions during the movie. While that's an effective strategy, it can't completely make up for the fact that Annabelle doesn't seem to have any moments on par with the clap game from The Conjuring.

Annabelle could also be held back a bit by the general apathy that seems to have set in with horror moviegoers this year. Excluding The Purge: Anarchy—more action thriller than horror—the genre's top debut this year belongs to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones at $18.3 million. In comparison, the horror genre had five $25-million-plus openers last year (Mama, Evil Dead, The Purge, The Conjuring and Insidious Chapter 2).

Still, the strong brand and pervasive marketing effort should be enough to get horror fans out to theaters. As of Wednesday, Annabelle was out-selling The Conjuring and The Purge, which suggests that it could top $30 million this weekend.

Annabelle also the potential to do strong business overseas. The Conjuring earned $180 million outside the U.S., which is an exceptional number for a horror movie. Annabelle isn't going to match that, but it could still be in line for $100-million-plus.

The Left Behind remake opens at over 1,800 locations this weekend. Starring Nicolas Cage in the role originated by Kirk Cameron, Left Behind is aiming to attract the Christian moviegoers that turned Son of God, God's Not Dead and Heaven is for Real in to such hits earlier this year.

Unfortunately, faith-based movies aren't all guaranteed hits. Moms' Night Out missed the mark, while Persecuted and The Identical were outright bombs with $1.6 million and $2.8 million, respectively.

The successful entries in this genre seem to all put faith-affirming content front and center; it's right there in the titles of Son of God, God's Not Dead, Heaven is for Real. As a post-apocalyptic thriller, Left Behind seems to fit in to the less-successful category (movies that just so happen to have a faith angle).

The Left Behind book series is reasonably popular, though, and should keep this movie from turning in to the next The Identical. Still, don't expect this to be the next God's Not Dead, either; an opening between $3 and $5 million seems likely.

The Good Lie, starring Reese Witherspoon, opens at 461 theaters this weekend. There doesn't seem to have been much of a marketing effort, and it would be surprising if this earned much more than $1 million and change this weekend.

Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children opened at five locations on Wednesday, and expands to 17 on Friday. The movie has received weak reviews (around 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), which tends to keep arthouse moviegoers away. With stars like Adam Sandler and Ansel Elgort, it could gain more traction when it opens nationwide on the 17th, though the dark subject matter will limit its appeal.

Ultimately, look for Men, Women & Children to perform similarly to Reitman's last two movies (Labor Day and Young Adult), which earned $13.4 million and $16.3 million, respectively.

Forecast (October 3-5)

1. Gone Girl - $40 million

2. Annabelle - $29 million

3. The Equalizer - $17.1 million (-50%)

4. The Boxtrolls - $11.4 million (-34%)

5. The Maze Runner - $9.1 million (-48%)

6. Left Behind - $4 million

Bar for Success

With its massively popular source material and a major marketing and publicity push, Gone Girl ought to be opening to at least $25 million this weekend. With a fairly low budget (less than $7 million) and strong international potential, Annabelle is in fine shape if it crosses $20 million. Finally, Left Behind needs at least $5 million to justify a release in to over 1,800 theaters.

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