Box Office: 'The Kitchen,' 'Racing in the Rain' Doused, Furthering Hollywood's Identity Crisis

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
'The Kitchen'

The only new movie to impress over the Aug. 9-11 weekend was 'Scary Stories We Tell in the Dark,' a parting gift from the disappearing CBS Films.

The August box office is more than living up to its name as a dumping ground, fueling the identity crisis facing Hollywood amid Disney's record-breaking domination, mergers and the rise of streamers. Over the weekend, no fewer than five movies opened nationwide, and the results weren't pretty.

The only title to impress was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, an adaptation of the best-selling children's horror book series by Alvin Schwartz that was produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro. The pic opened to $20.8 million, good enough to place second behind holdover Hobbs & Shaw.

Scary Stories is a parting gift from CBS Films, which is on its final legs as the CBS-Viacom remarriage looms and, more notably, is among a number of smaller movie companies that have struggled to survive on a diet of midrange fare. (As fate would have it, Scary Stories marks one of the better openings for the CBS label.)

The teen-friendly Scary Stories easily beat Paramount's Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which debuted to a subdued $17 million. Walden Media and MRC co-financed Dora, based on the popular Nickelodeon TV kids adventure series. (MRC is owned by Valence Media, which also owns The Hollywood Reporter.)

Paramount — like other major Hollywood studios — is battling to compete with behemoth Disney, and hoped to launch a new franchise with Dora in an era where branded IP reigns supreme. Whether that can happen now is unclear.

And August is turning out to be brutal for Warner Bros., which is still adjusting to its new owner, AT&T. The Kitchen went up in flames in its debut opposite Scary Stories and Dora, grossing $5.5 million to come in at No. 7. In previous years, Warners ignited the August box office, including with Crazy Rich Asians and The Meg in 2018 and Suicide Squad in 2016.

What a difference a year can make: The Kitchen marked one of the studio's lowest openings in recent times and a career-worst start for Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, who star alongside Elisabeth Moss in the female-fronted period mob pic.

Next weekend, Warners could have another low-grossing opener with the Bruce Springsteen-inspired Blinded by the Light, a film acquired out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Adult-skewing films opening nationwide, versus opting for a platform release, have burned out quickly this summer, including Long Shot and Late Night.

Exceptions include Sony and Quentin Tarantino's star-studded Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — the only original 2019 summer movie to cross $100 million domestically after opening nationwide in late July — and Universal/Working Title's Yesterday, which has grossed more than $70 million domestically since hitting theaters everywhere in late June.

Meanwhile, the Disney empire commands more than 40 percent of 2019's marketshare after already racking up a record $8 billion-plus in global ticket sales, even as it absorbs steep losses associated with the 21st Century Fox acquisition. Last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger informed investors that films inherited from the 20th Century Fox stable resulted in a loss of $170 million in the third quarter. Presently, Fox titles for the year have earned roughly $265 million domestically, compared with $2.7 billion-plus for Disney. And if Fox were still a stand--alone studio, it would rank No. 7 in market share behind Lionsgate ($400 million).

The Art of Racing in the Rain, the penultimate film from Fox 2000, certainly didn't help matters. The dramedy, about a race car driver and his dog (voiced by Kevin Costner), debuted to a forgettable $8.1 million over the weekend against a production budget of at least $50 million before marketing.

Universal's Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw may be the only August release to cross the century mark in North America. Last year, two films did: Crazy Rich Asians ($174.5 million) and The Meg ($145.4 million).

Hobbs & Shaw, released Aug. 2, has grossed $108.5 million in its first 10 days domestically and more than $333 million globally. (The action pic is one of the reasons Universal currently ranks No. 2 in market share, ahead of Warners.)

"August has always had a bit of a split personality, offering at times some of the more interesting and sometimes the most unexpected hit films of any given year's summer offerings, while simultaneously earning its reputation a a dumping ground of sorts for a host of forgettable films that are seemingly trying to find their place in the summer sun before the close of the season over Labor Day weekend," notes Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.

The unexpected hits he's referring to include DreamWorks' The Help (2011), which changed the way studio executives viewed August — especially for smarter and female-skewing fare — after opening to $26 million on its way to earning $170 million domestically, or Warners' raunchy comedy We're the Millers ($150.4 million) and Lee Daniels' The Butler ($116.6 million), both of which opened in 2013, and Universal's Straight Outta Compton in 2015 ($161.2 million).

"If not for Hobbs & Shaw, this August would truly live up to its 'dog days' reputation. And given the lack of a Straight Outta Compton or Crazy Rich Asian type of film that each became a cultural and box office phenomenon, this will likely be a softer-than-expected final month of the 2019 summer season," Dergarabedian says. "To be clear, though, The Farewell could have been that missing cultural phenomenon type of film this August if it was in wider release."

Filmmaker Lulu Wang and A24's indie breakout The Farewell, which has platformed slowly in terms of theater count, has earned $10.3 million to date. The film, starring Awkwafina, expanded over the weekend into a total of 704 cinemas after first launching in four locations July 12.

The rest of August is expected to be relatively quiet.

In addition to Blinded by the Light, the other new films opening next week include Sony's The Angry Birds Movie 2, Universal's comedy Good Boys, Annapurna's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? and the indie sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. On Aug. 23, Millennium and Lionsgate debut franchise installment Angel Has Fallen, which reteams Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman.

"Hobbs & Shaw looks like the only $100 million hit in August, and even that film is flying a bit under the radar," says box office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "Next weekend is, for all intents and purposes, summer's last gasp … and odds are it will go out with a whimper."

Box office revenue for the year continues to lag behind 2018 by more than 6 percent, while the official summer period is down 1.6 percent. The next major event pic on the horizon is Warners/New Line's It: Chapter 2, set to open post-Labor Day on Sept. 6.