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James Wan’s 6 Steps to the A-List!!

The Conjuring James Wan Saw Insidious

Insidious: Chapter 2 (my review here) cleaned up at the box office this weekend. Not in the expected “it’ll make 20 million” way (which still have been a big win), but in a “holy sh*t it made like 40 million” way.

With James Wan taking the helm of Universal’s gigantic Fast and Furious franchise (he’s currently filming Fast 7), I figured it would be fun to take a look back at the films that got him there. Even with the great Conjuring and Insidious franchise making huge returns on their initial investments (not to mention ) it hasn’t always been a straight line to the top. It almost never is in Hollywood.

Head below to check it out!

1: SAW (2004)

It’s easy for a lot of people to forget that Saw was never really a “torture porn” film. Sure, it’s a clever thriller that sees its characters in some harrowingly gory moments, but it’s really about decisions. Tough decisions people have to make in order to determine their own survival.

Made for a reported budget of $1.2 Million, this innovative (and occasionally iffy) film wound up with a $55 million domestic take and an overall worldwide box office haul that topped $100M. While Wan and writer Leigh Whannell were involved as executive producers on all of the film’s sequels (with Whannell also writing the 2nd and 3rd installments), they immediately set about expanding their brand instead of hiding within it.

2: DEAD SILENCE (2007)

It was here that we found out Wan’s interest in dolls didn’t begin and end with the Billy puppet from the Saw franchise. This ventriloquist haunter was Wan’s first studio film (for Universal). Produced on a reported $20M budget the film grossed $16M domestic and $22M worldwide at the box office. Not exactly a slam dunk, financially. This was back before the DVD and Blu market had really eroded so it’s possible that it made its money back at some point, but it was almost certainly a longer trip into the black than Saw.


This isn’t the first year to see two James Wan films hit theaters. 5 months after Dead Silence Fox released Wan’s second studio picture, Death Sentence. This underrated Death Wish inspired revenge thriller (starring Kevin Bacon) is actually pretty good and has a league of staunch defenders. However, this may be the first time Wan hit the ropes (in terms of an upwardly mobile career trajectory). Also produced for a reported $20M, the film made $9M at the domestic box office and topped out at $16M worldwide.

Even though the Saw franchise was still going strong it would be three and a half years before Wan’s next directorial effort.

4: INSIDIOUS (2011)

But still, what a comeback. Produced on a reported budget of $1.5 million, this slow burn haunted house film (which evolves into a bizarre jaunt into the astral plane of “The Further”) grossed $54 million domestic and $97 million worldwide, a fantastic return on investment even before the ancillary revenue kicked in. In all likelihood, this helped Wan get his next job – which would turn out to be the most pivotal moment of his career.


Wan returned to studio filmmaking with WB’s The Conjuring. Here’s something a lot of people will forget in the coming years – it actually got him the Fast 7 gig before it became a global megahit. Early cuts of the film were testing so high and Universal was so impressed with the footage they saw that the deal was announced several months before the film hit theaters. This is where the meritocracy of the whole thing really balances out – The Conjuring is far and away Wan’s best movie. It’s a downright GREAT supernatural horror film, and its quality fed incredible word of mouth and repeat business.

So with the big $100M (plus) budgeted Fast 7 already booked, The Conjuring‘s $135M domestic take (so far) and $259M worldwide total (so far) cemented the perception that Wan had creatively grown into a filmmaker capable of engaging wide audiences on a repeat basis.


While I don’t like Insidious: Chapter 2 as much as The Conjuring, I think it’s a positive illustration of how much risk success can afford a filmmaker. Success isn’t just about piling money into your account, it’s about being able to do what you want. With a built-in audience for the film and a small budget (reported $5M – 1/4th of the cost of The Conjuring), Leigh Whannell and Wan were allowed to do just about anything they wanted. And they did. Chapter 2 is an incredibly “out there” film and it doesn’t play safe by any stretch of the imagination. Which is why it’s commendable even if though didn’t entirely work for me – it shows us a filmmaker who wants to challenge himself and isn’t content going for the easy reward.

Which is to say, even if you’re not a Fast And Furious fan, that you can expect interesting things from Wan in the future. And if he does return to horror, it will be because he’s found an idea that interests him – the guy doesn’t exactly need a fall back plan at this point.



  • James Wan is definitely in my top 10 favorite director. each one of his movies brings something different to the table (granted haven’t seen Insidious 2 yet). His work on Death Sentence, namely the chase into the parking lot, was jaw dropping to me. Glad he’s getting recognition beyond saw and also glad he’s directing Fat & Furious 7, very interested to see what he brings to the table in that.

    • Freddys-Nightmare

      I want to see Fat & Furious! That sounds amazing!

    • Evan3

      Holy crap @Joshua Turney? A top 10 favorite director? Go see more movies young fellow.

    • Evan3

      Also, I would love it if the film franchise were called “Fat and Furious.”

  • rg_lovecraft

    Man, I can’t stand this guy and I can’t help but get the feeling that I’m the only one that feels this way. I have no problem with his departure from horror, I think that the genre will be better off that way. Plus, it’ll be nice not having to see his name plastered every where I look as well.

    • djblack1313

      rg_lovecraft, i’m sorta with you. i think Wan is ok but nothing he does is very original or scary. i AM curious to see how his FAST FURIOUS 7 turns out because i’m not sure about Wan and big action. it’s going to be hard to top FF6.

    • Evan3

      You aren’t. I would still say that Saw is his best (not the best directed, but easily the best story. No doubt he has grown as a director though). Still, its nice to see a clearly talented guy make it into the big budget venues, even if his films are over-hyped. Also agree @djblack1313 that none of his films are ever scary.

  • K-Dogg

    In a world of Uwe Boll and other god-awful directors, I really like Wan….My all time fave will always be John Carpenter. And my current fave has to be Neil Marshall, but I think Wan has some real talent. I especially loved The Conjuring, so far my fave horror flick of ’13.

    • Evan3

      @K-Dogg – What of You’re Next?

  • Danny-E

    I thought the Conjuring was kind of a mess. Camera work was great but the set looked like a set, the acting was spotty and the character development was non existent. To me his best work is Death Sentence. But that was spotty as well. He hasn’t lived up to Carpenter level cause he has yet to film a masterpiece.


    I’ve always liked the SAW franchise, no matter how stupid it was at times. I guess the fact that I went every year from the time I was younger with my mom brings back fond memories of her pulling me out of school for the day so we could go without anyone knowing! Of course, now that that series is over, I’ve found nothing great about a single one of his movies. Insidious and Insidious Chapter 2 were both awful and tried too hard to mesh comedy with horror. The Conjuring tried harder to be scary, but just came off as unintelligent and exhausted. Dead Silence was horrible as well, and Death Sentence just felt thrown together. And what is this guys infatuation with Patrick Wilson? I don’t get why anyone says he’s a great director, or a great anything. I liked SAW for the intelligence of the traps, not the directing style, but he’s nowhere near as great as some of the people out there, like Brad Anderson and Tarsem Singh.

  • SaltSlasher

    Is he even capable of making a bad movie?!? I know most director/writers make it big on first movie, but then some seem to come up short on making any other kind of franchise, let alone any equal to original success.

    I know SAW is easily the greatest single feat that Horror has disposed upon mankind bringing Horror back to the common movie goer, but, on a “creative” level/Horror fan level, Insidious topped it in my book, and then “The Conjuring” blew it all out the water!

    It would be a shame on humanity if he quits, ever.

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