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‘Midway’ Takes No. 1 From ‘Doctor Sleep’ in Box Office Surprise

Latest Stephen King adaptation is falling below expectations

Warner Bros.’ “Doctor Sleep” was expected to take No. 1 this weekend; but surprisingly, the top spot now looks like it will go to Roland Emmerich’s WWII film “Midway,” as “Doctor Sleep” is falling well below opening weekend projections.

“Midway,” which is being distributed by Lionsgate in the U.S. and U.K., is opening to an estimated $17.5 million after grossing $6.3 million from 3,282 screens, slightly above pre-weekend projectons of a mid-teens start. While a No. 1 opening would be a feather in Emmerich’s cap and a solid result for Lionsgate, this result is still well below what a war film with a $100 million budget needs to make its costs back and will look for strong legs in conservative states.

In an effort to get this passion project made, Emmerich independently financed the film through foreign presales at Cannes and equity deals with Chinese investors, with Lionsgate acquiring domestic and U.K. distribution rights. “Midway” was not received well by critics with a 40% Rotten Tomatoes score but does have strong audience feedback with an A on CinemaScore and strong turnout from moviegoers over the age of 50.

But the severe underperformance of “Doctor Sleep” is the big shock of the weekend. Produced on a $50 million budget, trackers had expected a solid opening of $25-30 million given the film’s positive reviews — 73% on Rotten Tomatoes — and glowing praise from Stephen King. Instead, the film is flopping with an estimated $13.5 million opening from 3,855 screens. That’s well below the $24.7 million opening for another 2019 Stephen King adaptation, “Pet Sematary.”

Marketing for the film heavily sold its status as a sequel to “The Shining,” but like Kubrick’s classic film, “Doctor Sleep” is having a very sluggish start at the box office. But while “The Shining” was able to catch strong word of mouth and become a success back in 1980, the content-heavy, opening weekend reliant market of 2019 is likely to send “Doctor Sleep” to an early bedtime as it hasn’t received traction with the young female audiences that helped put the “It” films over the top and earned a B+ on CinemaScore.

This weekend’s other new releases, Universal’s “Last Christmas” and Paramount’s “Playing With Fire,” are vying for the No. 3 spot with openings in the $12 million range, which is slightly above tracking for “Playing With Fire” and on the mark for “Last Christmas.” “Playing With Fire,” a comedy starring John Cena, has a B+ on CinemaScore and a 25% RT score while “Last Christmas” has a 49% RT score and a B- on CinemaScore.

Completing the top 5 is Paramount’s “Terminator: Dark Fate,” which flopped in its opening last weekend and is now taking a 65% drop from its $29 million opening with a second weekend total of $10.2 million, which would give it a 10-day total of $47.8 million. WB/Village Roadshow’s “Joker,” meanwhile, has finally been pushed out of the top 5 in its sixth weekend, earning $9.2 million as it inches closer to becoming the first ever R-Rated film to gross $1 billion.