Nearly 50 years after William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” hit theaters as a top-grossing feature in 1973, its new sequel is opening atop the box office. Universal’s “The Exorcist: Believer” grossed $11.9 million on opening day from 3,663 locations, including $2.85 million in previews.
The Blumhouse and Morgan Creek Entertainment production should have no problem topping the weekend, though “Believer” is now debuting below its optimistic projections, which predicted a $30 million gross in the three-day frame. The horror entry should take around $28 million through Sunday.
The film does far less business than director David Gordon Green’s last spin on the classic horror franchise at Blumhouse; His 2018 “Halloween” was a huge hit with a $76 million debut. “The Believer” can’t match the run of the 1973 original, which still stands as the series’ high with a lifetime gross of $441 million. Adjusted for inflation, it is the ninth-biggest grosser in box office history.
Universal raised $400 million dollars to acquire the rights to this new “Exorcist” trilogy, which sees Ellen Burst reprise her role from Friedkin’s original. A sequel, “The Exorcist: Deceiver,” is already slated for 2025, though it’s unclear whether director Green will return or follow up on Universal’s service, Peacock. When it was first announced in 2021, a highly competitive auction market among streamers was the defining element of the massive deal.
Typical of the Blumhouse model, “The Exorcist: Believer” wasn’t a very expensive project once the pieces were in place; The film has a production budget of $30 million. But Universal put a lot of chips into this new trilogy and it certainly didn’t make the big change that was expected.
Whether “Believer” can make a lasting impression on audiences is up in the air. There are negative reviews on things that don’t help Variety Chief film critic Owen Kleiberman writes, “A crucifix feels as dangerous as if the designer dipped it in water in a bottle.” Audiences are also remarkably negative, as indicated by a “C” grade determined by research firm CinemaScore. The horror trend is lower than in most genres, but Greene’s “Halloween” reboot managed to land a friendly “B+.”
“The Exorcist: Believer” ignores the events of Friedkin’s various sequels to the original, instead reintroducing viewers to Chris MacNeil (Burstin), who is recruited by a group of parents to help exorcise two pre-teen girls possessed by Satan. Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz and newcomers Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum also star.
Last week’s winner “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” teeters down in second. The Paramount release earns a total of $11.6 million in its second weekend, down just 49% from its opening.
“Saw X” only takes a 55% drop in its sophomore run after earning $2.4 million on Friday. Horror entries usually face a tough fall, but the Lionsgate release upends the competition with some strong reviews. On paper, “The Exorcist: Believer” is a very worthy title, but it will be interesting to see which horror entry will follow once the Halloween season begins to wind down.
Disney’s “The Creator” moves into fourth place with $1.73 million on Friday. It faces a roughly 64% drop in its second release — pretty steep for a film with an $80 million production budget. The total domestic gross now stands at $20.5 million.
“The Blind” rounds out the top five, with rivals Fathom Events predicting a mere 18% drop for the release. Based on the life of “Duck Dynasty” star Bill Robertson, the faith-based biopic explores his romantic relationship with Kay Robertson and their Christian faith.