Coming into this weekend, it was clear that with four major studio releases, the box office was bound to be crowded. However, when you take a look at exactly what was being released, including a Roland Emmerich-directed “Midway,” a family-friendly “Playing with Fire,” the holiday rom-com “Last Christmas,” and the latest Stephen King adaptation that is a long-awaited sequel to “The Shining,” common sense would dictate that Mike Flanagan’s “Doctor Sleep” would walk away with the box office crown. But to use a terrible sports saying — that’s why you play the game.
In a shocking turn of events, “Doctor Sleep” wasn’t the biggest film of the weekend and narrowly missed the fourth spot overall. Instead, “Midway” won the frame, in fairly convincing fashion, proving that even decades after “Independence Day,” Emmerich can still draw a crowd, especially with a well-timed release.
“Midway” earned a respectable $17.5 million this weekend, good for the #1 spot at the domestic box office. While the historical war film wasn’t aided by good reviews (40% on Rotten Tomatoes), “Midway” is apparently the beneficiary of some great scheduling, as the film is released during Veteran’s Day weekend and found the right audience (and an ‘A’ CinemaScore). Obviously, when you have a film that is reported to have a $100 million budget, $17.5 million isn’t exactly superb business. But then again, the film doesn’t have a ton of A-list stars and a director that doesn’t carry the same cache that he once did during his late-‘90s heyday.
So yeah, Lionsgate will take it.
“Doctor Sleep,” on the other hand, just wasn’t able to find the audience that many predicted it would. Debuting with a first weekend domestic total of only $14.1 million, the ‘Shining’ sequel underperformed in a terrible way. Honestly, this one is a bit of a head-scratcher. “Doctor Sleep” came into the weekend with solid reviews (73% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the fans that actually paid money to see the film enjoyed it (‘B+’ CinemaScore). Not only that, the film had a ton of buzz, as Stephen King films are “on trend” and this one, in particular, had the added benefit of being the sequel to one of the best horror films (or just films, in general) ever.
What went wrong? Well, when you begin to look at the bigger picture, one thing becomes abundantly clear — Stephen King just isn’t enough to sell a film.
Now, you might be shocked at that statement, considering “It: Chapter One” and “It: Chapter Two” have grossed well over $1 billion combined and are some of the highest-grossing horror films of all time. But, when you look at the films that have been adapted from King novels, regardless of their reviews or release dates, they are largely disappointments.
This year alone, there was the highly-anticipated “Pet Semetary” remake that did “decent,” grossing $112 million worldwide on a $20 million budget. Domestically, that film debuted with $25 million (likely carrying that post-‘It’ goodwill), but it ended up only earning $54.7 million overall. Not great. Previous films, including 2017’s “The Dark Tower” and 2013’s “Carrie,” were big disappointments. Other films, like “Cell,” “Mercy,” “Gerald’s Game,” “1922,” and “Into the Tall Grass,” all debuted post-2010 but went straight to home video and/or Netflix. Going back even further, you have “1408,” “Secret Window,” “The Mist,” and “Dreamcatcher” that all finished either below $100 million or just above (“1408”).
Long story short, though he’s one of the best horror writers of all time and his name carries a lot of buzz, King properties, relatively speaking, don’t really do well at the box office. At least, not nearly as well as “It” has done in the last couple of years. Basically, if it doesn’t have Pennywise, people just aren’t rushing out to see it.
Not only that, but with “Doctor Sleep,” there’s the added hesitancy from film fans that wonder if “The Shining” actually needs a sequel? And how the hell did Flanagan and King come up with a film that not only honors the novel but also the Stanley Kubrick film? Those are questions that could be deciding factors about forking over $10 per ticket to see a film in theaters versus waiting for streaming.
Thankfully for “Doctor Sleep,” the film was able to earn just enough to avoid a major black eye, as it edged out the other two big opening films, including “Playing with Fire” and “Last Christmas.”
John Cena’s “Playing with Fire” had one of the worst trailers of the year (yes, the fact that I’m not a 5-year-old kid probably makes me biased), but ended up scoring a decent enough opening weekend domestically, earning $12.8 million. Despite a godawful 24% on Rotten Tomatoes (apparently, critics aren’t all 5-year-old kids either), “Playing with Fire” found the target audience this weekend, garnering a solid ‘B+’ CinemaScore. This indicates that the film might be able to stick around in the weeks to come. Well, until “Frozen 2” arrives later this month and sucks all the air out of the room for other children’s films.
Coming in at #4, “Last Christmas,” directed by Paul Feig, earned an estimated $11.6 million domestically. Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding star in the new holiday rom-com that is based on the song of the same name performed by George Michael (really, it is). With mixed-to-bad reviews (49% on Rotten Tomatoes), “Last Christmas” didn’t have much buzz coming into the weekend, except for those internet sleuths who have been trying to guess the film’s twist for months now. However, once you get past the twist (it’s not very twist-y, in actuality), “Last Christmas” just doesn’t have enough laughs and a strong enough story to attract audiences, despite pretty charming performances from Clarke and Golding. Audiences generally rejected “Last Christmas,” as well, earning the film a not-great ‘B-’ CinemaScore.
Quick digression — Paul Feig, who was one of the most bankable names in comedy directing, with a string of box office hits including “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and “Spy,” is desperately in need of some consistency at the box office. After “Spy,” the filmmaker released “Ghostbusters,” which despite all the controversy and unearned hatred, didn’t exactly light up the box office. Sure, “A Simple Favor” was a surprise hit last year, but that film didn’t crack didn’t even crack $100 million worldwide. And now, with “Last Christmas,” Feig is on a bit of a box office cold streak. His next film, which is another genre departure for the filmmaker, the monster film “Dark Army,” could be a breakout, if it gets the greenlight, but with horror films being so hit-or-miss, who knows? Basically, don’t be surprised if Feig goes back to some sort of broad, R-rated comedy with a strong female lead, in the next year or two.
As for other films that have already been in the recent box office discussion, there are two quick notes of interest. First, “Terminator: Dark Fate” didn’t bounce back in its second weekend. The sci-fi/action film dropped a big -63% and earned a terrible $10.8 million. Now, after 10 days, the domestic total for the ‘Terminator’ sequel sits at a startlingly bad $48.4 million. Oof. The studio behind the film has already reportedly decided to not move forward with sequels at this time, and with this weekend’s performance, we can pretty much guarantee that the franchise is…wait for it…terminated. And it…won’t be back. (Better get those jokes out of the way now because we won’t be talking about ‘Terminator’ much in the years to come…)
To end with a bit of good news, Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” expanded to just over 800 theaters this weekend and almost cracked the top 10, earning a pretty great $3.9 million. The film is one of this year’s big awards contenders and carries some great reviews and strong buzz. So far, Fox Searchlight has to be pleased with the results, as the film currently has a domestic total of $9.1 million and hasn’t even hit 1,000 screens yet. Plus, when you take “Thor: Ragnarok” out of the picture (sure, written and directed by Waititi, but hardly a typical film from the filmmaker), the highest-grossing Waititi film is “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” which earned $22.7 million worldwide and only $5.2 million domestically. So, at this point, everyone involved with ‘Jojo’ has to be thrilled.
Next weekend, the fall box office gets even busier, with major debuts such as the Ian McKellan/Helen Mirren thriller “A Good Liar,” the Oscar-worthy film “Ford v. Ferrari” starring Christan Bale and Matt Damon, and the Kristen Stewart-led “Charlie’s Angels” reboot.” Earlier this year, Sony moved “Charlie’s Angels” back a couple of weeks to avoid a collision course with ‘Dark Fate.’ Now, with the ‘Terminator’ franchise crashing and burning, was that move smart or will “Charlie’s Angels” suffer a similar fate? Join us in seven days to find out!
Here’s the domestic top 10 for November 8 to November 10:
1. Midway – $17.5M (Debut)
2. Doctor Sleep – $14.1M (Debut)
3. Playing with Fire – $12.8M (Debut)
4. Last Christmas – $11.6M (Debut)
5. Terminator: Dark Fate – $10.8M ($48.4M Overall)
6. Joker – $9.2M ($313.4M)
7. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – $8M ($97.3M)
8. Harriet – $7.2M ($23.4M)
9. Zombieland: Double Tap – $4.3M ($66.6M)
10. The Addams Family – $4.2M ($91M)
Special addition – 11. Jojo Rabbit – $3.9M ($9.1M)