Will the Stephen King effect help ‘Doctor Sleep’ at box office?

Will the Stephen King effect help ‘Doctor Sleep’ at box office?
Warner Bros. via CNN

The prom, clowns, a picturesque hotel in Colorado. These things don’t really convey a lot of dread for moviegoers — unless they’re in the hands of Stephen King.

“Doctor Sleep,” the follow up to Stanley Kubrick’s classic “The Shining,” opens in theaters this weekend. It’s the next terrifying tale for the big screen based on one of the author’s best-sellers.

King’s books have been popular fodder for Hollywood since 1976’s “Carrie.” His stories have spawned blockbusters like 2017’s “It,” beloved critical darlings like 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption” and flops like 2003’s “Dreamcatcher.” Films based on King’s stories have made more than $1.6 billion at the North American box office, according to Comscore.

Adaptations of King’s bestsellers have been popping up more at the cineplex lately. “Doctor Sleep” is the fifth film based on one of King’s stories released since 2017. The author has been able to find a place on the marquee among brands like Marvel, DC and Star Wars because he is “intellectual property unto himself,” according to Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

“He has millions of adoring fans worldwide,” Bock told CNN Business. “So his name above a film title is actually worth something.”

“It,” which is based on King’s 1986 novel, surprised Hollywood when it had the highest-grossing opening in the history of September two years ago. The film has made $700 million worldwide and spawned a sequel, “It: Chapter Two,” which has made more than $450 million globally since September.

“It’s impossible to discount the impact King’s ‘It’ films had not just on the box office, but on pop culture,” Erik Davis, a correspondent for Fandango, told CNN Business. “The success of those films certainly has a lot to do with this renewed interest in King’s stories, especially from a younger generation that’s not as familiar with the author’s work.”

It’s pretty unlikely that “Doctor Sleep” will make as much for Warner Bros. as “It,” a film it also produced. “Doctor Sleep” is projected to make roughly $25 million this weekend, according to industry analysts. That’s roughly $100 million less than what “It” opened to. (Warner Bros. is owned by CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia.)

But “Doctor Sleep” does have some things working in its favor. It has solid reviews — as of the publication of this article, it had a 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes — and it could hook in audiences nostalgic for Kubrick’s “The Shining,” which has been praised as one of the best horror films ever made.

King, however, is not a fan of it. He told the Paris Review in 2006 that Kubrick’s adaptation of his bestseller is “a Cadillac with no engine in it.”

“You can’t do anything with it except admire it as sculpture,” he said. “You’ve taken away its primary purpose, which is to tell a story.”

The author has said he feels differently about “Doctor Sleep,” which was directed by Mike Flanagan.

“I read the script very, very carefully and I said to myself, ‘Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of ‘The Shining’ is redeemed for me here,'” King told Entertainment Weekly on Tuesday.

“Doctor Sleep” could also see a bump at the box office because it’s in a genre that’s made a killing recently.

Horror films like “Us,” “A Quiet Place” and last year’s “Halloween” have been surprising successes at the box office, surpassing industry expectations.

Caetlin Benson-Allott, an associate professor at Georgetown University who specializes in new media’s impact on film, believes scary movies are popular right now because they can be more comforting to audiences than the horrors of real life.

“Dark times are a fertile moment for horror storytelling,” Benson-Allott told CNN Business. “Horror gives us hope that everyday people can overcome seemingly insurmountable monstrosities.”

And there’s not many people better at telling horror stories than King, Benson-Allott noted.

“King is an expert in creating narrative worlds,” she said. “As a culture, we seem to be really excited by trans-media narrative universes right now, like Marvel’s. King offers that in a way no other horror writer does.”