close reads

A Horror Fan’s Guide to the Ever-Expanding Conjuring Universe

This is the Conjuring universe. Photo: Warner Bros.

In July of this year, The Conjuring franchise turned ten years old. If you had a baby the year the first file on Ed and Lorraine Warren came out, they’d be in, like, fifth grade by now. If you were in college then, it’s a good chance you’re now in your 30s. Taylor Swift has had at least five eras since the Perron family ran afoul of Bathsheba. These movies born out of genre super-producer James Wan’s horror empire have raked in more than $1 billion to date, and The Nun II — the latest installment — is now playing in theaters.

Never mind that Nun No. 1 should be hidden away in the very back of the Warrens cursed closest and never brought out again. It’s time for some more Valak up in this French girl’s boarding school! First Nun gave this mega-baddie its own dedicated movie back in 2018, and now the sequel has arrived on the stone streets of mid-century Europe to terrorize the smooth visage of Taissa Farmiga once again. Nine movies in, Wan and New Line Cinema are looking for another hit in their mega-franchise, and they’re going back to familiar faces for The Nun II. Devil Made Me Do It and Curse of La Llorona director Michael Chaves takes the helm again for this Sister Irene versus Valak no-holds-barred rematch. And this time, Malignant and M3gan scribe Akela Cooper is counted among the credited screenwriters. (If the reigning queen of horror crazy can’t un-boring this little side-franchise, maybe no one can.)

Given how much ground these movies have covered, Vulture put together a study guide for the franchise fans who want to catch up on the eight films that precede new Nun — and understand exactly how they’re all connected. Behold, a timeline of the Conjuring universe events that makes it clear we have been taught all the wrong things in American public schools about what was really going on in world history between 1950 and 1980.

The Nun (2018)

Look, it’s Taissa Farmiga. Photo: Warner Bros.

The Setting: Cârța Monastery in Romania, 1952.

The Plot: This is the origin story of the demon nun, which was summoned in your standard-issue “duke in the Middle Ages is obsessed with the occult and draws a supreme evil to Earth that ends up haunting a Romanian abbey” scenario. In The Nun, a priest and a young novitiate are summoned by the Vatican to travel to Romania and see how haunted this abbey really is. (Spoiler: It’s terminally haunted.)

The Villains: A spirit named Valak is the one bringing all the Big Villain Energy to The Nun — and to the Conjuring universe at large. (The shroud of the presiding abbess wasn’t an official villain, but she wasn’t a part of the solution by any means. She was, after all, dead the entire time.)

The Heroes: The Nun has a handful of heroes. Demián Bichir’s Father Burke goes toe-to-toe with Valak. Irene the novitiate (Taissa Farmiga) strikes the final blow against the demon, dying in the process and prompting a helpful local named Maurice to bring her back to life. But let’s give it up for the literal blood of Christ, which is ultimately responsible for neutralizing Valak by sealing the supernatural rift in the abbey’s catacombs. Sadly, Maurice’s good deed does not go unpunished, and he ends up possessed by Valek in the film’s conclusion.

Universe tie-in moments: In a photo of the cursed abbey, we see the nurse nun from 2017’s Annabelle Creation, the events of which happen next on this timeline. We also see footage of the Warrens performing an exorcism on Maurice, which will lead the couple to meet the Perron family in The Conjuring and encounter Valak for the very first time.

The Nun II (2023)

Photo: Warner Bros.

Setting: France, 1956

The Plot: The Nun II could also be called The DaViNUNci Code, because it has Sister Irene setting out from her new convent to bop around Europe and solve the mystery of clergy turning up dead by suicide through the process of finding old Catholic relics. Sister Irene was happy in her new environs, being all faithful and serene and counseling the obstreperous new bride of Christ, Storm Reid’s Sister Debra, on how to have faith. But when the Vatican comes knocking, she has no choice but to hunt down a demon herself, because her last co-star, Father Burke, is dead of cholera now. Her old adversary, Valak, is seen as the prime suspect (spoiler: it is because of Valak!) in all these deaths, and everyone else in the church is too scared of the evil nun to do anything. That means it’s all on Irene’s shoulders to save a boarding school full of children from Valak’s scavenger hunt to find the eyes of a saint hidden in a silver jewelry holder. (We aren’t going to tell you why Valak wants these eyes, because they don’t tell us, either!)

The Villains: The groundskeeper, Frenchi, who walked away from the Romanian convent in 2018 Nun with Valak as a passenger on his soul, has unwittingly spread the demon like a plague wherever he’s gone for work since that movie. So, he’s a bit of a villain, but not consciously so. The main antagonist is clearly Valak, but we get a fun appearance by maybe the actual Devil as a horned goat man. But make no mistake about it: This is the Bonnie Aarons-as-Valak show!

The Heroes: Obviously, we’re leaning on Sister Irene for heroism here, but Sister Debra has some bad bitch moments on sidekick duty. The cute little daughter of the school’s (one?) teacher also surges in the heroism department as the movie goes on, at one point wielding the eyes of a dead blind saint like an Infinity Stone. Righteous.

Universe tie-in moments: Sister Irene actually sees Lorraine Warren in a vision she has, and there is a recreation of a shot from Conjuring 2, featuring Valak standing at the end of a hallway in the Warren’s home. Somehow, Valak is forecasting her own future in a waking nightmare scare of a young girl at this boarding school.

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Watch out, orphans! Photo: Warner Bros.

Setting: Somewhere in rural America, 1943 and 1955.

The Plot: In Creation, we get the origin story of a certain vintage porcelain doll named Annabelle. We learn that she was created by a toymaker, Samuel Mullins, who lost his daughter in an accident, and that he and his wife Esther invited a spirit they thought was their daughter Annabelle to live in the doll so they could keep her around after death. That spirit was actually a lying asshole who tricked a pair of grieving parents in order to scam its way into the mortal realm in search of a human host. Creation offers up a buffet of orphans and a young nun as Annabelle’s choices of souls to claim. Everyone trying not to die and be possessed is what drives the action.

The Villains: The obvious villain is the deceptive demon that tricks a pair of poor grieving parents into believing the spirit of their dead daughter has returned, when it is in fact an opportunistic monster using the doll as a vessel for destruction. The less obvious villain is soul-twisting grief. Grief is undefeated.

The Heroes: There aren’t any conquering heroes like the Warrens in Creation. The Mullins try to do the right thing, but are mostly just recluses who got this whole crisis started in the first place. Two of the six orphans who later come to stay with them, Janice and Linda, come closest to being heroes, but they’re really just trying to survive, and Janice ends up possessed anyway! So Creation is a wash for heroism.

Universe tie-in moments: Post-possession, Janice assumes the name Annabelle (!) and is adopted out of an L.A. orphanage by none other than the Higgins family (!!), which brings us to …

Annabelle (2014)

This actress is named Annabelle Frances Wallis but she is not Annabelle. Photo: Warner Bros.

Setting: Santa Monica, California, 1976.

The Plot: A young married couple, Mia and John Form, are being targeted by a demon that has latched onto a doll gifted to their unborn daughter. That doll is Annabelle.

The Villains: There are layers of villains in Annabelle. The porcelain doll at the heart of this saga is said to be possessed by the spirit of a girl named Annabelle Higgins (!!!), a cult member who we see slaughter her parents in their home and then slit her own throat while holding the infamous toy. Her blood dripped down into the doll’s eye, resulting in a presumed possession. But what really happened is that another soul-snatching demon — summoned by Annabelle’s cult — attached itself to the doll and impersonated Annabelle’s spirit.

The Heroes: The real hero here is their bookseller neighbor, Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), who ends up sacrificing her own life to save the victimized family from the cursed doll.

Universe tie-in moments: The brief appearance by Higgins acts as the primary link to the prequel, Annabelle: Creation. We also see the Warrens briefly at the beginning and end of the film, assisting a group of nurses with their Annabelle infestation, which is a nod to the events of The Conjuring. And a priest named Father Perez pulls some light sidekick duty, giving the terrorized Mia some spiritual guidance. His role will directly connect him to La Llorona.

The Conjuring (2013)

Vera Farmiga working overtime on a case in Rhode Island. Photo: Warner Bros.

Setting: Harrisville, Rhode Island, 1971.

The Plot: American husband-and-wife paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga and based on a real-life married duo whose paranormal investigations are said to have inspired the Amityville Horror series) go to a small farmhouse to help the Perron family, who is being haunted by a 19th-century witch very serious about keeping people off the property.

The Villains: Ah, the simpler times when a Conjuring movie could have a single villain. Bathsheba is the one terrorizing the Perron family, and her spirit rage stems from being an accused witch who sacrificed her newborn to Satan before committing suicide back in 1863. She curses everyone who tries to live on her land, so, honestly, she was probably a very real witch.

The Heroes: The Warrens, fighting the good fight for the possessed Perrons.

Universe tie-in moments: The groundwork for literally every other movie on this list, most immediately Annabelle Comes Home, as the Warrens take possession of Annabelle in The Conjuring. At the end of the film, we get a peek of the Warrens’ collectibles room, where they place a music box from the Perrons’ home among the artifacts of other past cases (and possible spinoff subjects).

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Judy! Photo: Warner Bros.

The Setting: Monroe, Connecticut, sometime after the events in The Conjuring.

The Plot: It’s a full-tilt specter free-for-all in Comes Home. The Warrens, having taken possession of Annabelle, bring the toy home to lock it in their collectibles room. It turns out, though, that Annabelle is actually a massive beacon for all spirits in her area, so she animates all the cursed objects the Warrens keep locked away. Everything is fine, as long as Annabelle stays encased behind some consecrated glass. But when a snooping babysitter opens her cage, all that evil gets out, leaving the Warrens’ daughter, Judy, to survive the night with her teenage minders.

The Villains: So many! After Annabelle takes up residence in the Warren’s cursed object room, she awakens practically all of the trapped spirits inside. That includes new baddies like the Ferryman; a demonic dress; a set of shogun armor that’s seen way too much; an evil TV; a haunted old-timey phone; the spirit of a werewolf; an all-black, horned devil man; a creepy little girl; a spooky piano; a self-rocking chair; and one of those extremely awful monkey dolls with buggy eyes and cymbals on its hands that exist for no other reason than to terrorize kids at the homes of their grandparents. All together, they make a terrible night for 10-year-old Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) and her babysitters.

The Heroes: With mom and dad out of town on business, Judy Warren comes through in the clutch with a crucifix, but she gets help from the babysitters and a sweet neighbor boy. Everyone pitches in!

Universe tie-in moments: Comes Home starts the same way The Conjuring did, with the Warrens taking possession of Annabelle. Are these films happening concurrently? Well, a newspaper article in the Warren’s home links them to a “controversial exorcism,” which could be a reference to what happened at the Perrons’ home. (The Warrens asked the Catholic Church for permission to conduct the exorcism in Rhode Island, but didn’t officially receive it until after they’d performed the thing.) That would put Comes Home after The Conjuring in the timeline. Judy also looks older here than she did in the 2013 movie.

The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Patricia Alvarez being taken away by the police after she attacked caseworker Anna Tate-Garcia. Photo: Warner Bros.

Setting: Los Angeles, California, 1973.

The Plot: A single mom and social worker, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), does not take Mexican folklore seriously enough and ends up angering the ghost of La Llorona, which sets out to kill her children.

The Villains: There are kind of two villains in this movie. The big bad is obviously the aforementioned La Llorona, whose origin story dates back to 1673, but the grieving and vengeful Patricia (Patricia Velásquez) appears at first to be a second foe. Anna visits Patricia and her sons at home, only to find the two boys locked in a room. Anna calls the police, fearing abuse, but when the kids are brought to a child services shelter, we catch our first glimpse of the real culprit, La Llorona, who has apparently been targeting the boys and seizes her opportunity to finally snatch them up. When the children are later found drowned in a river, Patricia is accused of murdering them. That’s when she prays for the Weeping Woman to haunt Anna, whom Patricia blames for her sons’ deaths.

The Heroes: Anna and her two kids put up a great fight against La Llorona, but they can’t take her down alone. Raymond Cruz plays Rafael Olvera, a church-adjacent curandero who helps the family with their child-snatching demon, as it routinely attempts to drown them throughout the course of this movie.

Universe tie-in moments: Tony Amendola does some more soft sidekick work as Father Perez, who has experience dealing with unwanted evil presences in the form of Annabelle.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The Hodgson family in their home in the London suburb, Enfield. Photo: Warner Bros.

Setting: Enfield, a London suburb, 1976–1977.

The Plot: The Warrens take a trip across the pond to help out the Hodgson family, who have been encountering supernatural activity in their British home.

The Villains: At first, it seems like Bill Wilkins, a crotchety old bastard who died in the Hodgsons’ house, is the primary evil spirit behind the family’s supernatural problems. But Conjuring 2 is truly a movie about the universe’s biggest and most important baddie, Valak, who most often takes the form of a demonic nun. Wilkin is but a pawn for the eviler Valak, who has been torturing the Hodgsons, possessing one of the children until she nearly throws herself out a window.

The Heroes: The Hodgson family (mother Peggy and her three kids) do the yeoman’s work of being the victims du jour, but the real heroes are the Warrens. Early in the film, Ed and Lorraine are investigating the famous Amityville house when Lorraine has a vision of a demonic nun figure during a séance. (That vision also includes an image of her dying husband, uh-oh.) By the time she vanquishes Valak from the Hodgson home, she’s encountered the nun in a second vision. (What is Ed doing, you might ask? Well, he’s singing Elvis Presley while playing acoustic guitar, which, in a way, is fairly heroic.)

Universe tie-in moments: Wan, in his last directing effort for the franchise, also introduces us to Valak’s non-nun form: the Crooked Man. At the end of The Conjuring 2, the Warrens place a zoetrope of the Crooked Man in their collectibles room next to Annabelle and the music box from the Perrons’ house. Yikes.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Photo: Courtesy of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It/New Line

Setting: Brookfield, Connecticut 1981

The Plot: Three Conjurings in, the Warrens have once again never faced anything quite like this! But they sort of say that to all the girls. The movie opens with an exorcism of a young boy who is successfully purged of a demonic spirit, but only because it goes on to inhabit his sister’s sweet boyfriend. The Warrens then discover that the little boy was the victim of a curse put on his home, which means the demonologist aspirational couple has to set out across New England to find out how that possession might be linked to various deaths in the region in order to find the curse’s point of origin. Can they save the sweet boyfriend from the malevolence inside him before it forces him to take his own life? Take a guess!

The Villains: The villain in Devil Made Me Do It isn’t really the Devil so much as it is some people trying to wield the devil. A man named Father Kastner is consulted by the Warrens to learn about a cult called The Disciples of Ram because a cursed totem that’s been linked to multiple murders is connected to that group of occultists. But guess what? Kastner the expert got a little too close to the Disciples and became one himself, eventually bringing his secret daughter, Isla, into the dark arts as well. Isla is the one casting dark magic against the little boy’s family (the Glatzels) and the sweet sacrificial boyfriend (Arne) cause she promised a life to Satan and now she needs to make good before he takes hers instead. Bad deal. Unlike Valak and Bathsheba in previous movies, the demon in Arne is never given a cool name.

The Heroes: This one is all Warrens, baby! The Glatzels and Arne are mostly just getting put through it. Cops are useless. No one else is coming to save the day except Ed and Lorraine — just as God intended!

Universe tie-in moments: The Warrens receive flowers from the Perron family because you shouldn’t ever forget to send well wishes to the couple who saved your family from demons. And the cult at the center of The Devil Made Me Do It, The Disciples of Ram, is mentioned previously in Annabelle. In that movie, we’re told that Annabelle Higgins, the woman who transferred her soul into the doll, was a member of the Disciples.

Where is the Conjuring Universe headed?

A fourth film in the main franchise, The Conjuring: Last Rites, has been announced. But if it doesn’t have Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren soulfully playing guitar to his beloved Lorraine again, we don’t even want it!

A Horror Fan’s Guide to the Expanded Conjuring Universe