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Every Conjuring Universe movie ranked worst to best

When James Wan's The Conjuring was released in 2013, the film became an instant hit, with many critics praising the film for its creative yet familiar take on the classic demonic sub-genre of horror films. Based on the real-life hauntings documented by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the series follows a set of interconnected stories of demonic possessions and hauntings. Three years after The Conjuring, a sequel film titled The Conjuring 2 hit theaters and was met with similarly positive praise, reinforcing audience's desire for films in the genre.

Not only has The Conjuring resulted in a sequel, various spin-offs based on other supernatural entities helped flesh out the franchise. Though the films have been met with mixed reviews ranging from positive to incredibly negative, the franchise has has earned over $1.4 billion worldwide, with the recent release of The Curse of La Llorona bringing in an additional $26.5 million during its opening weekend. 

But with six films released in the series so far and at least three more planned for the near future, how do all of these films stack up? Are all possessions created equally, or are some spirits more pernicious than others? This is the definitive list of which movies in the Conjuring Universe are a blessing, and which ones require an all-out exorcism. 

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Annabelle

While the first Conjuring film is often warmly regarded by horror fans, the prequel that followed in 2014 is not. Annabelle made a respectable $257 million worldwide, but reactions to the film were far from kind. One look at the movie's Rotten Tomatoes scores shows that filmgoers and critics alike were less than pleased with with the possessed doll and her antics. Based on the Annabelle doll first seen in The Conjuring, this spin-off focuses on a couple welcoming their first child. Unfortunately, the new parents are terrorized by a possessed doll that seems intent on taking the mother's soul. 

What sets Annabelle apart from other entries in the Conjuring Universe is just how stale and uneventful the overall film feels. Throughout most of the film, Annabelle hardly moves or really even bothers the couple who owns her. Outside of some shots of Annabelle looking intimidating or being positioned ominously in a room, there isn't really much to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. 

Not only is the film's antagonist a bore, the human characters completely lack any personality, which makes it difficult to emphasize or even remotely care about what happens to the small family. The concept of a killer doll isn't exactly new, and with so many better entries into the genre to choose from, Annabelle is completely forgettable. 

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The Curse of La Llorona

The latest entry to the Conjuring Universe, The Curse of La Llorona follows a mother trying to protect her children from the undead spirit La Llorona, a.k.a the Weeping Woman. With its fairly dismal Rotten Tomatoes score, it's pretty safe to say that watching The Curse of La Llorona is enough to make most anyone weep, and not from fear or dread.

The film wastes what could have been an interesting look at an underrepresented piece of Hispanic folk lore by instead making it into a formulaic ghost movie. The characters don't really have any interesting personalities —  particularly the children, who function more as props to drive the plot than as actual human beings. Similar to the unremarkable characters, the plot unfolds in a tragically predictable fashion.

Thematically, the film attempts to draw a parallel between Anna, the mother and protagonist, and La Llorona, who drowned her children in an act of revenge. Motherhood and conventional ideas about protecting children are highlighted extensively, but there's ultimately no commentary made about those themes. In the end, the film says nothing meaningful and only manages to deliver a few cheap jump-scares before La Llorona is defeated and the film ends.

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The Nun

The Nun stands out from other entries in the Conjuring Universe due to its haunting, Gothic set design. This, in conjunction with the period costumes, makes The Nun the most visually interesting entry in the franchise. However, a nicely constructed set and some interesting costumes aren't enough to make a film function, and it's safe to say viewers weren't impressed overall. Though La Llorona seems to have garnered a more positive viewer reception, this film at least features some aesthetically pleasing designs to accompany the cheap jump scares.

In the year 1952, a group of nuns living in a Romanian monastery discover that bombings from World War II have reopened a spiritual rift that once was sealed to keep demons from entering into the world. The film follows a novitiate who is determined to find the root of the evil now emanating from the monastery and banish a spirit that has taken the form of an undead nun.

Packed with a handful of boring, one-note characters, plenty of lazy dialogue, and a deluge of forgettable jump scares, The Nun manages to feel completely flat and devoid of creative substance, despite having some stylistic flare. 

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The Conjuring 2

After audiences and critics alike showed their distaste for Annabelle, the team behind The Conjuring knew that they would have to clean up their act for the next film in the series. To this day, The Conjuring 2 is still one of the best received entries in the Conjuring series, but it nonetheless feels a little like the creative team tried and failed to recapture lightning in a bottle with this sequel.

In the end, The Conjuring 2 feels like it was made with the intention of setting up an expanded universe instead of creating a complete, self-contained story, especially considering the spin-offs that followed soon afterward. Aside from the crowded roster of spirits, the primary demon gives its name to Lorraine in the beginning of the movie, which is the key to defeating it in the end, making the resolution feel not only rushed, but unearned. 

Despite these gripes, The Conjuring 2 is a still worthy successor to the first film, making use of interesting camera work, slow build-ups, and the sort creepy imagery that fans of the franchise have come to expect.

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Annabelle: Creation

Compare its critical response to that of its much-maligned predecessor, and it's obvious Annabelle: Creation is a massive improvement. Featuring a cast of likable characters, lots of creepy build-up, and tense pacing, Annabelle: Creation reaffirms that the Conjuring series is still a prime place to experience the paranormal frights that horror fans crave.

As a prequel to the first Annabelle film, Annabelle: Creation shows the origin of the demonic Annabelle doll. The film opens with a couple mourning the loss of their young daughter, Annabelle, nicknamed "Bee." The grieving parents are willing to make any bargain just to spend more time with her, and when a spirit begins making itself known in their house, they think they may have gotten their wish. But Bee isn't the same upon her return, and they soon realize that they've invited a demon to reside in their daughter's doll. To repent for their actions, the two take in a group of girls from an orphanage. Unfortunately for them, Annabelle wants to play. 

The film features competent acting from the cast of child actors and decent writing to support them as well. Though some of the scares end up falling flat, there are some genuinely visceral visuals that help drive home the sadistic nature of the demon. There is a unique balance in Annabelle: Creation between highlighting the emotional punishment endured by the possessed and the physical punishment doled out by the sadistic spirit, letting the two complement each other and build in anxiety-inducing ways. 

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The Conjuring

The first entry in the franchise is also the best entry, and critics and fans agree. Because there was no pre-existing film universe to explain things to audiences, The Conjuring had to be particularly paced. Instead of being thrown into the paranormal with little explanation, the characters are forced to do research, set up and monitor equipment, and work with local police just to get enough proof to have an exorcism approved. As a result of all the added legwork, not only does The Conjuring feel more believable and accessible for audiences, but the frightening pay-offs feel earned. 

The chief marker of this film's quality is the building of atmosphere. This is demonstrated particularly well through how reserved and understated some of the scares are in the film. The musical score is allowed to be soft and to serve as a background to scares, instead of the blaring, bass-heavy blasts that punctuate jump cues in later movies. Additionally, the minimal CGI used throughout the film is also done with precision, demonstrating the common adage — particularly true in horror — that "less is more."