Warner Bros.’ “Doctor Sleep” is the heaviest hitter arriving in theaters this Friday, but with a projected opening of $35 million, the sequel to “The Shining” is unlikely to boost November box office much.
While movie theater execs have predicted November and December will be a boom period, big ticket sales may have to wait until the Nov. 22 opening of Disney’s “Frozen II.” Already, it has set a new first-day advance sales record for animated films on Fandango, increasing speculation that it could challenge “Incredibles 2” ($182 million) for the all-time animated opening record. Even if it didn’t, meeting current projections of a $100 million-plus opening — something no non-summer animated release has done — would go a long way to reducing the 5.5% year-to-date deficit for theatrical releases in 2019.
This time last year, theatrical revenues were boosted by “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which sustained the market until the arrival of Thanksgiving family titles. But with “Joker” reaching the late stages of its theatrical run and “Terminator: Dark Fate” flaming out at the box office, this past weekend’s overall grosses were down approximately 33% compared to the same weekend in 2018.
This year, several smaller, lower budget films will try to carve out a niche with audiences, led by “Doctor Sleep,” the second Warner Bros.’ adaptation of a Stephen King novel to hit theaters this fall. While expectations for this film are far lower than those for “It: Chapter Two,” so is the budget. Meeting projections of a $25-30 million opening would be a solid result for this sequel to “The Shining,” and there is a chance that the film could overperform thanks to renewed interest in Stephen King thanks to the “It” films.
Based on King’s 2013 novel, “Doctor Sleep” stars Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance who is still traumatized by the events of “The Shining.” Now, 40 years after his stay at the Overlook Hotel, he must face his trauma after he is asked for help by Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a teen who shares Danny’s “shine” powers and is being hunted by an evil cult known as The True Knot. Rebecca Ferguson also stars in the film, which is written and directed by Mike Flanagan.
Also opening this weekend are Lionsgate’s “Midway” and Universal’s “Last Christmas,” both of which are currently projected to open in the mid-teens. “Midway,” directed by Roland Emmerich, is being given a slightly higher upside by trackers who project an opening as high as $20 million, with Lionsgate projecting $12-14 million.
With a reported budget of $100 million, “Midway” is one of the most expensive independent films ever made. In a recent interview with Variety, Emmerich recounted how he had to go outside the studio system to get the film financed through equity and foreign presales, including receiving $24 million from Chinese investors. While Lionsgate says a mid-teens opening would be a success for them as a distributor, it might be a sign that Emmerich’s big gamble won’t pay off.
“Last Christmas,” meanwhile, has a far smaller budget of $30 million and is being released as part of a first-look production deal between Universal and director Paul Feig’s Feigco banner. A mid-teens opening should be enough for the film to become profitable, especially considering it potential legs as a seasonal Christmas film.
“Last Christmas” is directed by Feig and co-written by Emma Thompson with Bryony Kimmings. Set in London, it stars Emilia Clarke as a down-on-her-luck employee at a year-round Christmas shop who finds herself in an unexpected romance. “Crazy Rich Asians” stars Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh also star alongside Thompson.
Finally, there is Paramount’s “Playing With Fire,” a comedy starring John Cena as the leader of a firefighter team that is tasked with taking care of three kids rescued from a wildfire. The film was moved up to this slot to replace the delayed “Sonic the Hedgehog” film, and with projections not exceeding $10 million, it is unlikely to soothe Paramount’s woes after the struggles of “Gemini Man” and “Terminator: Dark Fate.”