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!
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.
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.
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.