It appears that there were a lot of empty rooms at the Overlook Hotel this weekend. That is the rather stunning takeaway after Warner Brothers’ Doctor Sleep, a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining, crashed hard at the box office this weekend. Here was a film projected to open in first place with $25 million to $30 million and is now debuting in second with a meager $14.1 million. Yikes.
Making nearly half of where WB set the floor for Doctor Sleep’s expected opening, the film’s adult-skewing marketing and generally good reviews clearly did not drum up enough interest in its target audience. Meanwhile Lionsgate and director Roland Emmerich’s horribly reviewed video game movie version of the Battle of Midway overperformed, earning an unexpected $17.5 million at the box office and claiming the number one spot.
There will be a long line of post-mortems on this opening weekend to suss out why Doctor Sleep so underperformed after getting mostly positive reviews, and raves by some including our own, as well as a B+ CinemaScore. While that score suggests audience word-of-mouth is not electric, it should be good enough to not turn people away. Then again, not many want to show up in the first place. Doctor Sleep was obviously targeted at an older audience with a stately and even prestigious rollout predicated on the somber legacy of Kubrick’s original 1980 movie. It even aimed at those old enough to have read the book! However, it is a fair question whether younger audiences in the 18-24 demographic (the general sweet spot for R-rated horror movies) remember or care about The Shining.
Aiming at an older audience that generally goes to the theater less may have blown back against Doctor Sleep, as did the fact the movie is almost two and a half hours in length. To be fair, WB’s It Chapter Two ran closer to three hours and still opened to over $91 million, but that was predicated on a franchise already revived by 2017’s It, as well as what is apparently more potent nostalgia for millennials who grew up on the awful 1990 miniseries based on the same Stephen King novel. In Doctor Sleep’s case though, a 146-minute running time meant one less screening per auditorium a day, which in turn probably curbed the numbers even lower.
It’s also worth wondering if skipping festivals hurt Doctor Sleep. WB’s adult skewing Joker proved more divisive among critics than Sleep, but the movie gained an early push of buzz and momentum when it wowed most festival goers at Venice and Toronto earlier this year, building strong word-of-mouth and inflated critic review aggregate scores before the release, which suggested this was a blockbuster for those tired of CGI punch-ups.
Speaking of CGI, Midway was met with scathing reviews (including our own), but it had one major defensive factor: it’s a World War II epic. And Lionsgate smartly played that fact by opening it on Veterans Day Weekend, including by having USO-promoted and endorsed screenings in 20 markets, all requiring invitations to attend. A strategy built around red states and respect for the Greatest Generation, this approach built an excitement from an audience that really doesn’t care what Rotten Tomatoes says. For proof look no further than its A CinemaScore rating.
We might personally consider it a disservice to the memory of those that served at Midway, but clearly the only thing bombing this weekend is the haunted hotel.