Warning! Contains major spoilers for The Nun, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and all Conjuring movies!
It’s kind of perfect that the only two successful major shared cinematic universes out there are superheroes and horror. Comics have been telling a sprawling, interconnected story since their inception, while the first connected film universe ever, the Universal Monsters, was a horror franchise. The Conjuring’s Annabelle, Valak, the Nun, and the Crooked Man are no Frankenstein’s Monster or Dracula, but the mission is the same: scaring as many people as possible.
What’s fun about all of these spin-offs and side stories is that they intentionally feature tiny epilogues or moments that feed into other films in the franchise. You don’t need to be aware of these touches of continuity to enjoy the films, but their presence shows how important this universe (and its timeline) is to James Wan and the respective filmmakers. It’s no coincidence that Wan has had a hand in every one of The Conjuring universe’s scripts in some capacity too.
The Conjuring universe has just added the latest chapter to their growing saga with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It which is part of the main Conjuring canon, centered around a case pulled from Ed and Lorraine Warren’s file. It’s the most contemporary of the series yet and while it is a standalone it does have tie-ins to the Annabelle films.
For some the collective weight of these films and their connections may be too intimidating to jump in. What if I want to see The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It but didn’t see The Nun? Will The Conjuring 3 still make sense if I love the main Conjuring movies but have never checked out the Annabelle movies? Because a horror franchise’s backstory should never be more frightening than its actual story, here’s a helpful chronological breakdown of The Conjuring universe, from The Nun to Annabelle and beyond!
It should go without saying that spoilers will follow below…
The Nun takes place in Romania in 1952 and at this point is the earliest chapter in The Conjuring universe. Wan and the film’s director, Corin Hardy, seem to have designed the film to be an “origin of evil” type of story, which explores the genesis of The Conjuring’s big baddie and ultimate evil, Valak. When a nun commits suicide at the Abbey of St. Carta, people begin to suspect that dark powers of Valak are involved. The film even powerfully opens on a sizzle reel of Valak’s damage, complete with Lorraine Warren’s foreboding voiceover, taken from The Conjuring 2.
The Nun digs into the individual who is responsible for summoning not only Valak into the world, but demons in general. The film depicts what is ostensibly the birth of the first evil that initiates all of the series’ supernatural trouble in the first place. There’s a flashback that goes all the way back to the Dark Ages as the Duke of St. Carta’s ritual to summon Valak gets shown in detail. The Nun also briefly jumps back in time to 1945 to show Father Burke’s first experience with demonic possession. Whether the force that takes control of Daniel is Valak or some other evil, Valak still uses Daniel’s spirit as a means to torture Burke throughout the film (and really plays into the “Marquis of Snakes” namesake).
After it looks like Sister Irene and company have defeated Valak, The Nun not only shows that they were unsuccessful, but the film then jumps to 1977 during the Warrens’ “three stages of possession” lecture from The Conjuring 2. The couple’s possession footage gets framed in new light as the twisted fate of The Nun’s Maurice (“Frenchie”) is revealed. It also shows that the Warrens initially encounter Valak much earlier than they realize.
James Wan has said that he’s thought about how a sequel to The Nun would ultimately tie back to Lorraine Warren’s connection to Valak in The Conjuring 2 and bring the franchise full-circle in the process. The most logical story here would be to follow what happens to the Valak-possessed Maurice before the Warrens meet up with him (or even end the film with their intervention). In theory, The Nun 2 could take place any time between 1952 and 1975, but the late ‘50s or early ‘60s probably makes the most sense.
Even though Annabelle: Creation came out after both Annabelle and The Conjuring, it’s a prequel to both. In fact, it’s kind of remarkable that Annabelle: Creation is not only a fantastic horror film, but that it also connects so many dots throughout the franchise. It simultaneously ties up loose ends to the first Annabelle movie, as well as The Conjuring, but it also effectively sets up the events of The Nun.
Annabelle: Creation is largely set in 1955 and follows Samuel and Esther Mullins as they open their home up to Sister Charlotte and six orphan girls who are in need, but the film begins with a brief detour in 1943 when the Mullins lose their daughter, Annabelle, in a car accident.
The goal of Annabelle: Creation is to explain how the possessed doll from The Conjuring came into existence. Samuel Mullins is a doll-maker and after the death of his daughter, the Mullins are so desperate to see their child again they form a pact with a demon (that they believe is their daughter’s spirit) and allow it to possess a doll as a host. Janice, one of the orphans, forms an unusual friendship with the possessed doll and the awakened evil spirit is now hungry for a human conduit.
The film’s ending solidifies how this is a prequel to the previous Annabelle film, since the character of Janice goes on to become possessed, changes her name to Annabelle, and gets adopted by the Higgins family. The film then jumps 12 years in the future to the Annabelle prologue that’s set in 1967. The Satanic cult killings that kick off that film are shown (and now have a greater context), as well as the Form family who are the protagonists of the next movie. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has nods to these scenes too. The Satanic cult that Janice-as-Annabelle belongs to is called The Disciples of The Ram and in The Devil Made Me Do It we meet Kastner (played by John Noble) who we learn was instrumental in bringing down that cult, while his research into the occult and The Disciples of the Ram have a direct impact on the events of The Devil Made Me Do It.
Additionally, at one point in the film Sister Charlotte shows off a photo of herself and three other nuns from back when she was in Romania. The important thing about this is that an unnamed Valak is also present in the background of the photo as a fellow nun. While these nuns aren’t named, the photo originally appears on the wall of the convent within the Abbey of St. Carta in The Nun, placing Sister Charlotte’s photo in the year 1952. Furthermore, while the demon that possesses the Annabelle doll isn’t Valak, Valak conceivably helps this evil spirit complete its goal of possessing Janice, due to how it temporarily takes the form of a nun-like figure.
Finally, a (rather shameless) post-credits scene that takes place in 1952 features Valak, in nun form, walking through Romania’s Abbey of St. Carta and looking as creepy as ever. Not only is the tag a nod to the events of The Nun, but the scene is also directly pulled from the film’s prologue.
The Conjuring contains what’s essentially a terrifying Annabelle short film, so it’s no surprise to see how this evil doll quickly became a fan favorite. The Conjuring explains how the Warrens come in possession of the Annabelle doll, but Annabelle sets out to show some of the doll’s carnage before she gets locked up. Annabelle is set a mere four years before The Conjuring and it follows Mia and John Form, two fresh parents who unfortunately come in contact with the doll who’s eager for a human host. It’s worth pointing out that Annabelle begins with the death of Annabelle Higgins, AKA Janice from Annabelle: Creation. It’s her death in the proximity of the Form’s doll that sets in motion the disturbing series of events that destroy their lives.
The desperate Forms turn to the church and the idea of an exorcism as their last resort. This is ultimately what gets Annabelle in the orbit of the Warrens. Father Perez even makes a sly reference to the Warrens (albeit not by name) as one of his solutions to the Annabelle problem, although he can’t reach them in time.
Annabelle concludes with a tag that’s set six months after the events of the film and cleanly leads into the incident seen in The Conjuring’s prologue. Both Rick and Debbie from The Conjuring make a brief appearance as Debbie’s mom buys the doll from an antique shop and the rest is history.
The Conjuring series excels at the creepy factor, but what makes the main Conjuring films such a success is that Ed and Lorraine Warren are such an incredible, loving couple. They bring a humanity to these films that can be absent in the other offerings. While the Warrens are alluded to in Annabelle and appear in The Nun through recycled footage, The Conjuring marks their first appearance as they try to help the Perron family with their supposedly haunted home.
Set in 1971, The Conjuring tells a fairly to the point haunted house story that checks off most of the expected boxes and culminates in a terrifying exorcism sequence. Wan and company were just trying to make a good horror film with the first Conjuring, not launch a layered horror universe, so it doesn’t try to set up a handful of other properties. The film doesn’t even feature Valak, but instead opts for an isolated evil spirit known as Bathsheba. The Conjuring benefits from not trying to overextend itself and the Warrens’ creepy curio of haunted antiques leaves plenty of inspiration.
Annabelle Comes Home
Some films in The Conjuring universe jump all over the place in order to fill in gaps in the timeline and connect dots. Annabelle Comes Home stays relatively put, although it is nicely nestled between the first two Conjuring pictures. Annabelle Comes Home begins in 1971, immediately after Ed and Lorraine Warren gain ownership of the haunted doll from Debbie, the nursing student, who’s seen in The Conjuring and teased at the end of Annabelle. The film shows the Warrens build the blessed cage that houses Annabelle (that’s also revealed to be made using the glass from a church window), along with the help of The Conjuring’s Father Gordon (Steve Coulter).
After this, the film jumps a year later to 1972. We also know that it’s set after the events of the first film since the Warrens have gained a bit of notoriety for their work and the music box from the Perron case is also in their room of artifacts. Other than that, the film sets the groundwork for a bunch of new demonic entities as well as the growth of Judy Warren’s psychic abilities, which there are more hints of in The Conjuring 2, which is set after these events.
The Curse of La Llorona
Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona is currently the film with the most tangential connection to the larger Conjuring universe, but it still fleshes out some important details about the characters from these films. The most significant connection here is that Father Perez (Tony Amendola), the pastor with a wavering sense of faith, reprises his role from Annabelle. Perez uses his chilling experience with the possessed doll to properly prepare Anna Tate-Garcia for the spirit that’s attached herself to Anna’s family.
The Curse of La Llorona takes place during 1973 in Los Angeles (although there is a brief prologue set in 1673 that explores La Llorona’s origins, which is technically the earliest moment on the Conjuring timeline without including all of The Nun’s Spanish Inquisition nonsense). Furthermore, if the date didn’t already make it clear, Father Perez explicitly refers back to his encounter with Annabelle in Annabelle (the infamous doll makes a brief appearance via flashback). Not only that, but Father Perez basically implies that he’d also like to get the Warrens to handle the Garcia family’s case, but it’s only because they don’t have the luxury of time that he instead suggests Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz). The fact that this is set in 1973 also means that chronologically it would take place before The Conjuring 2 in 1977 and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It in 1981, but after the events of all of the other films.
It remains unclear where all of this may be heading, but with Father Perez experiencing more encounters with the paranormal, perhaps this will all culminate in an all-star demonic showdown where the Warrens, Olvera, and Father Perez all team up to take down the forces of evil in a future Conjuring film.
The Conjuring 2
Curiously, The Conjuring 2 begins with a brief introduction that’s set in 1976 while the Warrens attempt to investigate the infamous Amityville murders. The Amityville case isn’t the film’s focus, but it’s during a séance there that Lorraine Warren first experiences Valak, the Demon Nun (or so she thinks). After this warning, the film jumps forward to 1977 when the Hodgson family from Enfield, London requests the Warrens’ expertise.
The Hodgson family find themselves under the attack of the ghost of Bill Wilkins, the residence’s former tenant. However, it’s eventually revealed that Valak is actually the real threat here and he’s manipulated Bill Wilkins’ ghost to do his bidding (not unlike what Valak does to young Daniel’s ghost in The Nun). A lot of The Conjuring 2 pits Lorraine against Valak as her biggest challenge yet. The demon can even block Lorraine’s psychic powers, which is significant.
Lorraine tries to keep Janet Hodgson safe from Valak’s clutches, but the demon also chooses to manifest himself through the youngest Hodgson kid’s zoetrope toy. Ed helps protect Billy from the Crooked Man, a truly awful demon that makes The Babadook look friendly. The film ends with the Crooked Man’s zoetrope toy being added to the Warrens’ haunted antique collection, right next to the Annabelle doll and April’s music box from the first Conjuring.
The Conjuring 2 sees Lorraine effectively send Valak back to Hell and ends the threat that started in the Abbey of St. Carta all the way back in The Nun.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The third movie in the main Conjuring set which puts Ed and Lorraine front and centre is another real life case taken from their files. This one is perhaps unusual since it involves an actual real life murder. The film centers around the story of Arne Johnson (here played by Ruairi O’Connor), a young man who stabbed to death his girlfriend’s employer and landlord and claimed he was possessed at the time. The Warren’s had been called in before the incident to help the Glatzel family who believed 11-year-old David Glatzel was possess after displaying increasingly strange behaviour. A number of exorcisms took place, at which Arne was present – he was dating Debbie Glatzel, David’s sister. According to witnesses, at one point Arne goaded one of David’s demons, which then took residence in Arne. After this event he began to display strange behaviour similar to David’s and some time later committed the murder.
The real events of Johnson’s case are the bookends around The Devil Made Me Do It while the body of the movie sees Ed and Lorraine delving into the background of the possessions and what might have caused them. This leads the Warrens to meet with Kastner, a former priest who had done much work into the occult including a long term investigation into The Disciples of the Ram. The Disciples, were the satanist group who Janice-as-Annabelle joined. In The Devil Made Me Do It we also meet The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant), who we learn is responsible for calling upon the demon who possessed David, and before him Jessica and eventually Ed before the Warrens manage to banish this demon who takes the Occultist with it. We are given a brief glimpse at the Occultist’s back story – she’s the adopted daughter of Kastner who kept her hidden from the world – but there is plenty more to explore here, with not just her but also The Disciples of the Ram. Another spin-off movie? We wouldn’t be surprised. Meanwhile Jessica’s back story – she’s the young woman who is possessed and kills another girl, Katie before going over the edge of the cliff – is getting the comic book treatment. DC Comics has launched DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover which will delve further into the lives of the two girls before the events of The Devil Made Me Do It.
With an unscheduled Crooked Man spin-off in the works, and all sort of other possibilities available, this timeline is only going to become more overlapping and complex.