'Annabelle: Creation' expected to rise amid deathly August box office

The trailer for "Annabelle: Creation," the latest film in the "Conjuring" franchise.

Can an evil doll save the domestic box office during an otherwise ghastly month? No, not really, but New Line Cinema’s horror prequel “Annabelle: Creation” should breathe some life into the listless August box office, with a debut of at least $25 million.

A strong opening would be a relief after a particularly bruising weekend for domestic multiplexes, as the top 10 films collectively grossed $105 million in the U.S. and Canada, less than half the $218-million tally from the comparable weekend last year, according to comScore. (“Suicide Squad” led the prior-year weekend with its $133-million launch.) The meager charge was led by Sony Pictures’ and Media Rights Capital’s long-awaited Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Tower,” which collected a soft $19 million.

Domestic ticket sales this year are down 3%.

Besides “Annabelle,” Open Road will unleash the sequel to its talking rodent cartoon “The Nut Job,” while Lionsgate will release its family drama “The Glass Castle.”

‘Annabelle’ of the ball

With “Annabelle: Creation,” Warner Bros. and New Line may add another hit to their successful horror series based on 2013’s “The Conjuring,” which introduced a possessed doll that terrorizes families. The relatively low-budget “Conjuring” movies and spinoffs, loosely based on the stories of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, have grossed nearly $900 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel and origin story leading into 2014’s spinoff “Annabelle,” which was itself a prequel to the original “Conjuring” movie directed by James Wan. “Creation” is directed by David F. Sandberg, whose feature debut was last year’s surprise hit “Lights Out,” based on his short film that went viral on YouTube. “Lights Out,” made for $5 million, opened with $21.7 million in the U.S. and Canada, and ended up with $149 million in global ticket sales.

A $25-million debut for “Annabelle: Creation” would be a solid result for a movie that cost about $15 million to make. Counting in the new movie’s favor are its generally positive reviews (82% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), something that couldn’t be said for the first “Annabelle” (29%). There’s also a conspicuous lack of direct competition from other studio products at theaters.

Going nuts?

Meanwhile, recently acquired distributor Open Road Films will try to draw kids to theaters with “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” a follow-up to the 2014 animated heist comedy about chattering squirrels. The $40-million sequel, featuring the voices of Will Arnett and Katherine Heigl, is expected to open with $12 million to $15 million, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

The first “Nut Job” opened with $19 million on its way to $64 million domestically, making it Open Road’s highest-grossing film. This week, Open Road, launched in 2011 by theater chains Regal Entertainment and AMC Entertainment, was acquired by Tang Media Partners, a Los Angeles-based company with backers including China’s Tencent Holdings.

As Open Road courts families, Lionsgate’s “The Glass Castle” will target grown-up moviegoers with a midsize release on about 1,400 screens. Analysts expect the film, starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, to collect about $5 million through Sunday. Based on a 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls, “The Glass Castle” recounts Walls’ upbringing in a nomadic, poverty-stricken family. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s previous feature was the highly regarded 2013 indie film “Short Term 12,” which also starred Larson.

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