The series began with The Grudge, premiering on October 22, 2004. The story follows Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an exchange student studying social work, living with her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr) in Japan, who innocently agrees to cover for Yoko (Yōko Maki), a nurse who didn't show up for work. When she enters the assigned home, she discovers an elderly American woman, Emma (Grace Zabriskie), who is lost in a catatonic state while the rest of the house appears deserted and disheveled. As she is tending to the stricken old woman, Karen hears scratching sounds from upstairs. When she investigates, she is faced with a supernatural occurrences and encounters spirits of the deceased Saeki family members. Within this house, a chain of terror has been set in motion resulting from tragic murders that occurred years before. As more people die,Karen is pulled into the cycle of horror and learns the secret of the vengeful curse that has taken root in this house while simultaneously trying to keep her boyfriend from getting involved.
The film was a major box office success, grossing over $180 million at the box office, far exceeding the expectations of box office analysts and Sony Pictures executives.
The second installment was released on October 13, 2006 and is set within two years after the first film and between two countries. It follows Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn), Karen's younger sister who, after receiving a phone call from her mother (Joanna Cassidy) regarding Karen's confinement in a mental hospital after the events of the previous film, travels to Tokyo, Japan to meet her. When she witnesses Karen dying horrifically, she sets out to find the source of the curse along with a journalist named Eason (Edison Chen).
An American teenager studying in a Japanese International School named Allison Fleming (Arielle Kebbel) also has to deal with a terrifying supernatural event inflicted by a prank by her classmates. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jake Kimble (Matthew Knight) is also caught up in the curse that seems to have spread to his apartment after Allison Fleming moves back there with her family.
Like its predecessor, the film was a box office success, earning $70 million worldwide.
In Chicago, Jake Kimble, the sole survivor of The Grudge 2, is interned in a mental institution and his therapist Dr. Francine Sullivan (Shawnee Smith) does not believe that he is haunted by the malevolent ghosts of Kayako and Toshio. When Jake is killed in his cell with nearly all his bones broken, Dr. Sullivan decides to investigate further with an open mind. Meanwhile, Lisa (Johanna Braddy), the sister of the building's superintendent, Max (Gil McKinney), steals the key of apartment 305 to have sex with her boyfriend Andy (Beau Mirchoff). When she realizes that the apartment is a crime scene, she immediately returns to her apartment, where she resides with Max and their ill sister Rose (Jadie Hobson). In the meantime, Naoko Kawamata (Emi Ikehata) travels from Tokyo to Chicago to stop the curse of her sister Kayako. She meets Lisa and tells her that she needs hers and Rose's help to stop the fiend of her sister, but Lisa refuses to participate. When Max is possessed by the evil spirit of Takeo, Lisa decides to reconsider Naoko's offer.
Unlike the first two films, The Grudge 3 did not receive a worldwide theatrical release. In Mexico, the film received a limited release on June 25, 2010 and a nationwide release on August 6. Its reported sales of 2,271,177 DVD units (approx. $38,610,009 USD in sales) recouped its $5,000,000 budget, marking yet another successful release in the franchise.
A sequel was announced in August 2011, with a release set for 2013/14. The film was speculated to be a reboot of the series, rather than a direct sequel. It is also expected to introduce a new storyline, not that of the Saeki Family curse that covered the prior films.
On March 20, 2014, it was officially announced that a reboot of the franchise was in the works, with Jeff Buhler set to write the screenplay. Buhler had stated in an interview that the upcoming reboot will not serve as a remake of the original film, and is expected to introduce "New characters, new ghost, and a new mythology”. It was also reported that the character of Kayako Saeki, who had been a central character of the previous three installments, will be absent from the reboot. On July 6, 2017, it was announced that Nicolas Pesce was set to rewrite, based on Buhler's script, and direct the reboot.
Karen Davis (portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is the main protagonist of The Grudge. Karen originally traveled to Tokyo, Japan with her boyfriend Doug as a foreign exchange student. During her studies in Tokyo, Karen decides to volunteer as a house maid for a social worker program. She soon finds out about the Saeki curse, and tries to stop it before she and Doug are claimed by it. While trying to keep her boyfriend Doug from falling to the curse she burns the house down, unintentionally releasing the curse instead. In The Grudge 2, Karen is placed in a Japanese hospital. She is strapped to a bed and constantly guarded by the police. She is still haunted by Kayako, causing her to panic and free herself. She successfully evades the Police while being chased by the ghost. When she reaches the roof of the hospital, she backs away to the edge of the roof and Kayako either pushes her off or she commits suicide (the latter is more likely due to Karen not screaming while falling to her death).
Gellar received praise for her performance in the first film. Where many critics referenced her performances as the reason for the film's success. Upon her appearance in The Grudge 2, she received mixed reviews due to the character's surprise death upsetting many fans since Scream 2.
Aubrey Davis (portrayed by Amber Tamblyn) is Karen's younger sister and the protagonist of The Grudge 2. She lives in Pasadena, California and is one day called to her mother's house. Mrs. Davis tells Aubrey what has happened to Karen and Doug before announcing to her that Aubrey will be flying to Tokyo to bring Karen back. Instead, she feels compelled to investigate Karen's death (after Karen jumps off a building, or gets "dragged off" by Kayako). Aubrey tries to stop the curse and, during her visit to the Saeki House, she mysteriously gets warped through time to the night of the first murders. There, she is violently killed by Takeo Saeki in exactly the same manner as his wife, Kayako, was.
She turned into an Onryō due to dying in extreme sorrow and pain. From that point on, she replaces Kayako until Allison comes face to face with her. Whether she still resides in the house as Kayako's replacement is unknown.
Lisa (portrayed by Johanna Braddy) is the main character of The Grudge 3. She is a resident of the building and appeared to be living in the apartment for some time, knowing most of the residents such as Jake and Allison Fleming (albeit rarely meeting the latter). At the time of the events of The Grudge 3, she had been intending to leave Chicago for New York with her boyfriend to work as a fashion model so she can win the scholarship money to pay for her sister's Rose's medical bills. She becomes rather uncomfortable with the fact that Rose is saying that a new boy had moved into the building despite not hearing about it before. She later finds out the 'new boy' is in fact Toshio Saeki after running into him at the same floor Jake's apartment is. After Kayako's younger sister Naoko moves into the building and tries to convince Lisa and her sister to participate in an exorcism to rid the building of the evil spirits, Lisa refuses to participate but soon after finding out her brother had been possessed she changes her mind. After her brother kills Naoko during the exorcism, Lisa gets cornered by Kayako.To save her sisters life, Rose finishes the exorcism ritual herself by drinking Kayako's blood and causes Kayako to disappear. Shortly afterwards, her brother is killed by Naoko's spirit.
Lisa is one of the two survivors from the apartment massacre though she does not know that Rose's body now houses Kayako's spirit. It is unknown what happens to Lisa and Rose after this, and if the spirit of the deceased Naoko comes for them.
The Grudge was a box office success. The film opened in North America on October 22, 2004, and generated $39.1 million in ticket sales in its first weekend of release. During the film's second week, it declined 43% with $21.8 million, becoming the first horror film to top the Halloween box office since House on Haunted Hill (1999). It made a total of US$110,359,362 in North America alone and $187,281,115 worldwide, far exceeding the expectations of box office analysts and Sony Pictures executives, who anticipated just $20 million. The company stated that the film cost less than $10 million to produce, thereby making it one of the most profitable films of the year.
A sequel was announced the Monday after The Grudge opened in North America. Later titled, The Grudge 2, the film opened on October 13, 2006 in North America, to capitalize on Friday the 13th. The marketing worked, and the filmed grossed $10 million on its opening day. The Grudge 2 topped the North American box office with $20.8 million overall, during its opening weekend. This was well below what most analysts had expected, and more than 44% less than the opening of the previous film. However, despite failing to reach expectations, it was enough to cover its $20 million production budget. In total, the film had grossed $39 million in North America, the equivalent to what the first film opened with. Worldwide the film grossed $70,711,175.