How ‘The Conjuring,' ‘We're the Millers' became New Line's unlikely summer smashes
Wan poses with cast members Wilson, Farmiga, Taylor and Livingston at the premiere of "The Conjuring" at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles
By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - In a summer of superheroes, cartooned critters and bloated budgets, New Line Cinemas beat the odds by betting on a pair of low-cost films that defied expectations to become two of the most profitable hits of the year.
Going into blockbuster season, "The Conjuring" and "We're the Millers" were barely a blip on the radar. The talk was squarely centered on "Iron Man 3″ and "Man of Steel," with very little buzz left over for a gross-out comedy about an unlikely tribe of drug mules and a horror film without any A-list stars.
Yet with as a roller coaster summer at the movies reaches draws to an end, "The Conjuring" has made back its $20 million budget more than tenfold, scaring up $243 million globally.
Likewise, "We're the Millers," filmed for an economical $34 million, has topped the domestic grosses of the much more expensive "Hangover Pat III," racking up $112.8 million in North America and an additional $39.5 million in foreign territories.
"It all came together," Toby Emmerich, president and COO of New Line Cinema, told TheWrap. "The movies tested well, they had good dates and they were effective examples of counter-programing. I'd say the movies exceeded our expectations, but going into the summer, the expectations for both movies were very high."
Plus, the low-cost of the films allowed New Line and its parent company Warner Bros. to finance the productions without bringing in outside partners. Other major films must divvy profits between an array of production companies and film financiers, but these spoils belong entirely to the studio.
"This goes back to what New Line's roots were, smartly positioned films that have the lowest of low budgets," Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations, said. "To have two films match their budgets at the box office within the first week of their release is phenomenal. It can't work for everybody, but when you have a big studio like Warner Bros. behind you and a smart marketing campaign, it's a great strategy."
New Line is already putting the finishing touches on a first draft of a sequel to "The Conjuring" and has begun discussing the viability of a follow-up to "We're the Millers."
It's an explosive turnaround for a studio that started out 2013 with a whimper. "Jack and the Giant Slayer" eked out $197.9 million worldwide, barely as much as the $195 million it cost to produce. Steve Carell and Jim Carrey couldn't save the laugh-challenged "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," which grossed an anemic $22 million.
In the wake of its twin flops, New Line was pilloried in some Hollywood circles. Emmerich admitted that the criticism could be bruising, but said that the studio's confidence in its summer slate helped cushion the blow.
"The movie business is cyclical, you have hits and misses," Emmerich said. "The good thing was during that first quarter, we'd already seen how our summer films were playing in front of test audiences, so we knew we were challenged, but we also knew that we had good stuff coming."
After a summer riddled with pricey flops, New Line's more fiscally conservative approach could begin to find favor in an industry. Emmerich doesn't think that that Hollywood will turn its back on tentpole films. But he acknowledged that this summer's flops may prompt some to take a hard look at their business models.