Box Office: 'Doctor Sleep's' Dismal $14M Debut Terrifies Hollywood

Heading into the weekend, the sequel to 'The Shining' was expected to open to $25 million or more.

The Veterans Day box office turned into a bloody battleground for a slew of films unable to break through and convince consumers to turn out to the multiplex in force. The timing couldn't have been worse, considering that Disney+ — a symbolic reminder of the encroachment of streamers — launches Nov. 12.

The biggest shock was the Stephen King adaptation Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining that had been tracking to debut to $25 million to $30 million domestically. The R-rated horror thriller boasted all the right credentials — good reviews, the Stephen King brand and backing from Warner Bros., home of horror label New Line.

Instead, Doctor Sleep went into a coma. It opened to $14.1 million domestically and lost to Roland Emmerich's big-budget indie spectacle Midway, which took in $17.5 million. (Not that Midway is a victory, considering its $100 million production budget.)

Executives at Warner Bros. didn't do their usual round of Sunday morning box office calls and, behind the scenes, scrambled to understand what went so wrong.

The studio has suffered a string of misses in the past few months. Exceptions include Joker, which is days away from clearing $1 billion globally, and It: Chapter 2, another King adaptation that has earned $460 million to date. Joker alone will spin profits of $600 million, more than enough to absorb any losses from The Goldfinch and Doctor Sleep, which cost a net $47 million to produce after rebates and tax incentives.

Warners wasn't the only one feeling the heat over the Veterans Day frame.

Universal's rom-com Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, underwhelmed with $11.6 million and, in the second upset of the weekend, was passed up by Paramount's family pic Playing With Fire, which grossed a very modest $12.5 million.

"This weekend was like some weird alternative box-office universe," says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore, noting that year-to-date box office revenue continues to trail behind 2018 by 5.5 percent, but is still ahead of 2017 and other years.

Put another way: On the same weekend a year ago, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas debuted to $67.6 million, while Bohemian Rhapsody grossed $31.2 million in its second outing.

And two years ago on the same weekend, Thor: Ragnorak, then in its sophomore outing, collected $57.1 million, followed by a $29.7 million opening for the holiday-themed Daddy's Home 2 and a $28.7 million launch for Murder on the Orient Express.

Midway and Doctor Sleep hit theaters one week after Terminator: Dark Fate bombed in its global debut. In an era where known IP is the gold standard of Hollywood, Dark Fate and Doctor Sleep are especially bitter pills to swallow.

Warners was so keen on Doctor Sleep that movie studio chief Toby Emmerich had already struck a deal with director Mike Flanagan and his Intrepid Pictures to script a sequel whose working title is Hallorann, drawn from the character who appears in both The Shining and Doctor Sleep.

Box office analysts say Doctor Sleep ran too long (roughly 151 minutes) and that many members of the millennial and Gen Z generations aren't necessarily familiar with The Shining (1979), which was directed by Stanley Kubrick and starred Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.

"The Shining, despite being a cult classic, just doesn't have traction with younger audiences. Thirty-nine years was just too long between sequels," says Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations.

Adds Wall Street analyst Eric Handler, "I thought Doctor Sleep would do well. The types of films out this weekend seemed like good fits for the schedule, including even Playing With Fire, which has no competition in the family film category. Are people only looking for blockbusters right now?"