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From a business perspective, at least, The Exorcist: Believer is suddenly looking scary.
The first film in a planned horror trilogy, Exorcist: Believer is getting rather poor reviews — scoring only a
28 22 20 23 percent average on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s hardly unusual for Exorcist films to leave critics unimpressed. The franchise may have launched with William Friedkin’s acclaimed 1973 classic, but none of its four previous sequels received much acclaim.
But Exorcist: Believer (trailer below) isn’t just another sequel. Universal reportedly paid a head-spinning $400 million for the rights to the franchise in 2021, and Believer needs to generate enough momentum to help launch two more sequels.
The film has been tracking for a good weekend opening — a potential franchise best, actually — of $30 million to $35 million. It’s unclear if the reviews, which were published today, will impact ticket sales; horror films are often review-proof. The tracking is on par with the opening of New Line’s recently released The Nun 2. Yet as producer Jason Blum pointed out to IndieWire in March, The Exorcist: Believer needs to generate some head-spinning box office returns. Blum’s 2018 reboot of the Halloween franchise (which, like Believer, was also directed by David Gordon Green) opened to $77 million.
“The riskiest movie I have ever made for sure is not out yet,” said Blum (M3GAN, Get Out, The Black Phone), who is regarded as the most prolific and successful horror hitmaker working today. “It’s The Exorcist. Just because it’s so expensive. Usually the bar to success on everything we do because it’s inexpensive is incredibly low. For The Exorcist, it’s high.”
The film centers on Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.), whose daughter (Lidya Jewett) and her friend (Olivia Marcum) become possessed. Ellen Burstyn also returns to the franchise in her first appearance since the original film.
“Double the possession, half the fun,” snarked The New York Times. The AV Club gave it a “D” grade, saying, “The film is a grab bag of half-baked ideas that never coalesce into a coherent theme or a reason to exist.” Another critic even called Believer “the worst horror film of the year, despite Odom’s brilliance.” There are a few positive notices, too, with The Guardian‘s and Empire‘s among them.
The Believer reviews follow the latest offering in the low-budget Saw franchise, Lionsgate’s Saw X, scoring 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and A24’s similarly modestly priced horror title Talk to Me getting a 94 percent “Fresh” rating. Yet neither title came close to the $30 million domestic opening weekend revenue that’s predicted for Believer and was scored by The Nun 2 — which received only a 52 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director Green has been attached to helm the next film, The Exorcist: Deceiver, which is planned for 2025, and a third, as-yet-untitled film. In The Hollywood Reporter’s review, critic David Rooney predicted, “Any love you had for David Gordon Green’s attempts to reanimate John Carpenter’s game-changing Halloween franchise will probably more or less correspond to your feelings about The Exorcist: Believer.”
The new Exorcist sequels might be less dependent on the first entry being a major hit than other franchises — like, for example, superhero movies — because fans are accustomed to horror movie franchises being hit-or-miss, and the Exorcist brand goes back decades.
The prospect of Believer potentially underperforming has to bring to mind the specter of another expensive attempt by Universal to launch a multifilm, horror-inspired franchise — its canceled Dark Universe classic monsters franchise, which kicked off with 2017’s The Mummy reboot starring Tom Cruise.
With Believer’s box office tracking positive, however, all the critical barbs might not matter.
Still, Universal executives might want to say a few prayers.
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The Exorcist: Believer