Believer’ faces competition from Taylor Swift Eras film

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Scene from the upcoming film: The Exorcist: Believer.

Universal Studios

“The Exorcist: Believer” possessed the box office during its opening weekend, but industry experts wonder if it will continue to turn heads in the weeks to come.

The Universal and Blumhouse collaboration, the first of three planned films, tallied $26.5 million during its debut, making it the top-grossing film of the weekend. Yet that haul fell just shy of the $30 million prediction set by box office analysts. With international ticket sales, the film has generated $44 million.

Still, on a production budget of just $30 million, “The Exorcist: Believer” could prove profitable if it continues to lure moviegoers in the coming weeks.

There’s just one complication: Taylor Swift.

“The Exorcist: Believer” fled from its original release date (Oct. 13) because Swift announced her Eras Tour concert film would arrive in cinemas that day. The film quickly snared the coveted, higher priced, premium format screens, leaving little room for “The Exorcist: Believer” to eke out a solid opening.

“Moving from Friday the 13th to the 6th was a good move since the inherently strong marketing hook and advantage of having a horror movie opening on this classic day of superstitious importance would’ve likely been outweighed by the overwhelming dominance of that Swift film,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Representatives for Universal declined to comment.

There was a brief notion that the two films could have partnered to become “Exorswift,” an opposites attract double feature like the summer’s “Barbenheimer” (“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer”). The potential same-day opening was almost immediately shut down when “The Exorcist: Believer” moved its release date up a week. Even producer Jason Blum, head of Blumhouse, was open to the idea.

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Dergarabedian threw cold water on how well the combination would have worked, however.

“The notion that an ‘Exorswift’ mashup could have somehow been comparable to the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon is patently absurd given the unlikelihood that legions of Swifties would have an interest in a very R-rated horror movie like ‘The Exorcist: Believer,'” he said. “Thus going all in on a head-to-head matchup with Swift might have proved disastrous.”

Taylor Swift performs onstage during her The Eras Tour at Lumen Field in Seattle, July 22, 2023.

Mat Hayward/tas23 | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

After all, Swift’s Eras Tour concert film is already a $100 million blockbuster — and that’s just from presales from AMC Entertainment cinemas which doesn’t include dozens of other theater chains’ sales.

In moving the week before Swift’s film opening, “The Exorcist: Believer” was able to control a higher number of premium screens and more audience attention. Around 34% of all theatrical foot traffic over the weekend was for the film, according to data from EntTelligence. Competition for that traffic included a new “Paw Patrol” film and a number of R-rated features like “Saw X,” “The Nun II,” “The Equalizer 3” and “Expend4bles.”

Box office analysts foresee a sharp drop in ticket sales from “The Exorcist: Believer’s” opening weekend to its second week. A decline is typical for horror movies, but Swift’s film will exacerbate it, the predict.

Word of mouth could also be a factor. Horror movies are usually review-proof, often performing well theatrically despite critical panning. As of Monday, “The Exorcist: Believer” holds a 22% score on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and a 59% audience rating. With several more weeks before Halloween, the film could still pull in moviegoers looking for a fright.

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Scary stakes

There’s a good reason why Universal couldn’t take the risk on Exorswift. The studio badly needs “The Exorcist: Believer” and its planned sequels to be hits. (The next film, “The Exorcist: Deceiver,” is due April 2025.)

Universal and its streaming partner, Peacock, paid more than $400 million for the rights to The Exorcist brand. Through that investment, the studio has planned a trilogy of films. The company is also able to place previous Exorcist films on Peacock and integrate the IP in other ways, like Halloween Horror Nights at its domestic theme parks.

Still, no movie in the franchise, except for the original, has grossed more than $42 million domestically, according to Comscore. In fact, not counting “Believer,” all of the five sequels and prequels since the first movie have grossed under $150 million combined.

A scary track record

How “Exorcist” films have fared at the domestic box office:

“The Exorcist” (1973): $193.2 million”The Exorcist: The Beginning” (2004): $41.8 million”The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen” (2000)*: $40.1 million”Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977): $30.7 million”The Exorcist III” (1990): $26.1 million”Dominion: A Prequel to The Exorcist” (2005): $251,495

Source: Comscore

*Special edition re-release of the original

“The Exorcist is not a brand or series that’s been prevalent in the pop culture consciousness for decades now, and its few sequels beforehand never lived up to the iconic box office run of the 1973 original,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “The industry may have gotten a little carried away in expecting a bigger run just because this Exorcist sequel has the Blumhouse name on it.”

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“The Exorcist,” released on the day after Christmas in 1973, grossed $193 million domestically, and the “Version You’ve Never Seen” re-release, which featured additional scenes, scored $40 million in 2000.

Otherwise, the franchise is cursed at the box office. “Exorcist II,” which was made in 1977 without creator William Peter Blatty’s involvement, is widely considered one of the worst sequels ever made. Blatty, who died in 2017, wrote and directed 1990’s “The Exorcist III,” but he said the movie’s production company, Morgan Creek, forced him to severely compromise his vision. (The movie has since grown in stature among fans and critics.)

Then there was an ill-fated attempt to produce a prequel film in the 2000s that resulted in two wildly different movies. A generally well-regarded TV series ran on Fox for two seasons in 2016 and 2017, but it was canceled after a significant decline in ratings.

“Will the franchise have a higher ceiling in the years to come? That remains to be seen,” Robbins said. “It will largely come down to creative decisions and how the studios make an effort to attract modern horror audiences rather than leaning on a brand that a big portion of today’s moviegoers haven’t been regularly exposed to.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal, which distributes “The Exorcist: Believer,” is the parent company of CNBC and Peacock. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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