‘Midway’ Surprises ‘Doctor Sleep’ to Win Box Office Battle With $17 Million Debut

Overall grosses plummet without a major early November hit to support them

Midway box office
Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate

Early November has yielded major box office hits like “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in recent years, but no such juggernaut was in sight this weekend as Lionsgate’s “Midway” only needed a $17.5 million opening from 3,242 screens to take the No. 1 spot.

The chart-topping victory for Lionsgate and Roland Emmerich was a surprise for many analysts as Warner Bros.’ “Doctor Sleep” was expected to open to a $25-30 million opening. Instead, the $50 million sequel to Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” has collapsed with an opening of just $14.1 million from 3,855 screens.

With no film grossing over $20 million this weekend, overall grosses are estimated to drop almost 30% from the $163 million grossed in this weekend last year, when Universal/Illumination’s “The Grinch” opened to $67 million while “Bohemian Rhapsody” grossed $31 million in its second weekend. Movie theaters will likely have to wait until the release of “Frozen II” in two weekends for another major audience draw to arrive.

Despite the gloomy picture for the market, reps for Lionsgate tell TheWrap that the studio is pleased about how “Midway” performed, beating pre-weekend projections of a $12-14 million opening. With a reported $100 million budget — $75 million net — “Midway” took a much different path to release than other WWII films as director Roland Emmerich independently financed the film through foreign presales and equity deals with Chinese investors.

Lionsgate acquired distribution rights for the U.S. and U.K. and handled marketing for those markets, putting the bar for box office success lower for the studio than for the film overall. The film overperformed with older audiences, whom Lionsgate marketed the film to with USO events and social media ads in which WWII veterans that fought in the Battle of Midway were invited to view the film. While critics were characteristically tepid towards Emmerich’s film with 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, audience reaction was strong with an A on CinemaScore.

“Doctor Sleep,” meanwhile, comes as a big shock for Warner Bros. during an autumn in which it kept moviegoers buying tickets with “It: Chapter Two” and “Joker,” the latter of which has only now fallen out of the top 5 in its sixth weekend and is on the verge of becoming the first R-rated release to gross $1 billion worldwide.

Trailers for “Doctor Sleep” were attached to those two films, leading a marketing campaign that heavily sold the film’s connection to “The Shining” via references to Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece. Reception has been solid for the film with a 73% RT score, a B+ on CinemaScore, and Stephen King’s enthusiastic endorsement.

But female audiences under 25, a demographic that turned out for the “It” films, did not turnout for “Doctor Sleep” as CinemaScore polls showed an audience that heavily skewed older male: 57% male and 76% over 25. The result is the fourth box office bust for Warner Bros. since August, joining “The Kitchen,” “The Goldfinch,” and “Motherless Brooklyn.”

Taking third is the Paramount comedy “Playing With Fire,” which is opening to an estimated $12.7 million from 3,125 screens. Produced on a $30 million budget, the film has a B+ on CinemaScore and 24% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Just behind in fourth is the final new release of the weekend, Universal’s “Last Christmas.” Also produced on a $30 million budget, the Paul Feig romance film opened to $11.6 million from 3,448 screens and received a B- CinemaScore grade and 49% RT score.

Completing the top 5 is Paramount’s “Terminator: Dark Fate,” which opened to a disappointing $29 million and has dropped 64% to a $10.5 million second weekend total. The film’s 10-day domestic total of $48.2 million is down 18.4% from the $59 million 10-day total of the sci-fi series’ last installment, “Terminator: Genisys.”

More to come…