With the low-budget horror film "The Conjuring" poised to win this weekend's box office race, Universal Pictures may soon face a frightening reality.
Of the four new films hitting theaters this weekend, the studio's $130-million 3-D action-adventure "R.I.P.D." is likely to fare the worst. According to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys, the picture starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges could debut with just $15 million -- a dismal start for such an expensive production.
The film that moviegoers seem most interested in, "The Conjuring," cost Warner Bros. only $20 million to produce. The James Wan-directed movie has generated strong buzz online and may launch with a robust $30 million.
Meanwhile, though its prospects don't look as dim as those for "R.I.P.D.," the animated 3-D family film "Turbo" could also fail to rev up major ticket sales this weekend. The DreamWorks Animation picture, which hit theaters Wednesday, is expected to take in a lackluster $35 million by Sunday evening. That should put it slightly ahead of "Red 2," the baby boomer-aimed action flick set to debut with roughly $22 million.
"The Conjuring" follows in the trend of inexpensive horror films doing well at the box office this year. "Mama," the Guillermo del Toro-produced $15-million movie, grossed more than $70 million in January. And "The Purge," which cost a scant $3.5 million to produce, beat Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson's film "The Internship" on its opening weekend in June.
"The Conjuring," starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, is based on the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators who in 1971 visited a Rhode Island farmhouse in search of otherworldly spirits. The well-reviewed film looks to become the latest hit for Wan, the filmmaker behind the successful "Saw" franchise who was recently tapped to direct the upcoming "Fast & Furious 7."
Though men younger than 25 probably will turn "The Conjuring" into a hit, it's older moviegoers who are eager to see "Red 2." In 2010, the original "Red" became a surprise hit with the demographic, launching with $21.8 million and ultimately going on to collect about $200 million worldwide.
The sequel, which cost Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment $84 million to produce, reunites cast members Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich as a group of quasi-retired assassins.
While "Red 2" should do at least as well as its predecessor, it's unclear whether Turbo" will be able to match the success of recent animated releases. It's been a big summer for family fare, and "Despicable Me 2" is still a big force in the marketplace, having racked up about $250 million in sales as it enters its third weekend in theaters.
Though the movie is being distributed by 20th Century Fox, it was produced for $135 million by DreamWorks Animation, which could use a box office hit. The Jeffrey Katzenberg-led company's last release, March's "The Croods," collected a respectable $600 million worldwide and spawned a sequel. But last year its "Rise of the Guardians" proved to be a disappointment, forcing the studio to take a $87-million write-down.
The movie, which features the voices of actors like Reynolds, Paul Giamatti and Michael Pena, follows a garden snail who hopes to one day race in the Indy 500.
Reynolds has had a mixed track record of the box office as of late, and "R.I.P.D." probably won't do much to improve it. Though fans responded to him in last year's espionage thriller "Safe House" opposite Denzel Washington, his 2011 comedy "The Change-Up" flopped, as did that year's "Green Lantern," his bid at launching a superhero franchise.
In "R.I.P.D," the 36-year-old and Bridges play lawmen who come back from the dead to keep citizens in line on Earth. Universal is not screening the movie for critics until Thursday evening, possibly a sign the studio is fearful that the movie will generate poor word-of-mouth.
"R.I.P.D" -- which stands for for "Rest in Peace Department" -- has had a troubled road to the big screen. Universal acquired the project -- based on a Dark Horse Entertainment comic -- 14 years ago. Originally, Zach Galifianakis was slated to play Bridges' part, and David Dobkin was meant to direct, but the filmmaker was eventually replaced by Robert Schwentke.
Though production on the film had been done for more than a year, this spring Universal postponed the movie's release date from June to July because it was nervous about opening opposite "White House Down."