Has the Stephen King movie adaptation bubble burst? Or was opening a big horror movie a week after Halloween a huge misstep? In any case, Doctor Sleep, Warner Bros.’ big sequel to The Shining, failed to generate much steam over the weekend. The Mike Flanagan-directed King adaptation was tracking toward a $25 million opening weekend, but the real result was an underwhelming $14.1 million. To add insult to injury, the film came in second to Roland Emmerich’s abysmal Midway.
Doctor Sleep is a big, bold, ambitious movie that strives to pay respects to both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick. The fact that it’s a studio-produced horror movie that’s unafraid to be sentimental is worth celebrating. Sadly, the celebration is going to have to wait a while. Perhaps the film will fare better on home video, but for now, the weekend box office results are less-than-shining. The movie comes on the crest of a wave of several other Stephen King adaptations and was expected to both win the weekend and haul in possible $30 million. Instead, it’s sitting at $14.1 million, and already being written off as a failure.
So what happened? Warner Bros. had a lot of faith in the film and actually moved its release date up: it was supposed to open in January 2020 before shifting back to November 2019. But perhaps they should’ve moved it back even further? I’m a weirdo who watches horror movies all year long, but I can’t help but think that Doctor Sleep would’ve benefited from a Halloween-adjacent release date. The only theatrical horror offering in October was the already forgotten killer app movie Countdown – audiences were likely hungry for more theatrical horror and had no options. Post-Halloween is an odd time to launch your big horror movie, and it’s not a case of the film not being ready in time. Because overseas, Doctor Sleep actually did open on October 31. There’s no reason it couldn’t open domestically on that date.
On top of all this, Warners kept the hype surrounding the film relatively quiet. Last year’s Halloween sequel/reboot benefited from early buzz thanks to a TIFF midnight madness screening. Many – myself included – had assumed Doctor Sleep would cash-in on similar festival buzz. It seemed like the perfect title to play as a secret screening at the genre-oriented Fantastic Fest. But it was not to be. I’ve heard through the grapevine that more than a few festivals attempted to work out a deal with WB to play Doctor Sleep, and the studio declined. They might be kicking themselves over that decision now.
Meanwhile, Midway, one of the worst movies of the year, ended up at the top of the box office. This isn’t exactly cause for celebration, though, as the movie took in $17.5 million on a $100 million budget. Of course, Midway is a war movie that opened on Veteran’s Day weekend – a release date that makes sense. Just as releasing Doctor Sleep on Halloween weekend would’ve made sense, too. Oh well.
Here are the top 10 movies at the box office, via Box Office Mojo.
2. Doctor Sleep
3. Playing With Fire
4. Last Christmas
5. Terminator: Dark Fate
7. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
9. Zombieland: Double Tap
10. The Addams Family
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