Box Office: ‘Firestarter’ Nabs Soft $1.6 Million Friday

There was just one new wide release this weekend, which is itself inexcusable and yet more evidence that the biggest threat to theatrical is not Covid but rather studios’ unwillingness to put movies into theaters on a regular basis. Those complaining that AMC charges more for The Batman or more for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness should wonder why those are essentially the only huge movies for their respective month (Top Gun: Maverick opens in late May and will hopefully boost June’s overall domestic earnings).

Kudos I guess to Universal for offering Blumhouse’s remake/re-adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter into theaters. The film, which got miserable reviews and a C- from Cinemascore amid a noticeably quiet ad campaign, earned just $1.5 million yesterday for a likely $3.7 million weekend gross. To be fair, this is reminiscent of when Universal and Focus were almost single-handedly keeping theaters in business in late 2020 with a slew of small(er) scale studio programmers (Let Him Go, Freaky, etc.) which would be lucky to crack $4 million on opening weekend.

Even with the film’s concurrent availability on Peacock, and honestly, the flick is direct-to-DVD quality (director Keith Thomas’ The Vigil is a much better horror picture and is currently on Hulu), offering at least something amid a gun-shy industry qualifies as an act of charity. And if Focus Features’ Downtown Abbey: A New Era breaks out next weekend, well, all the better. At least one studio understands that theaters can’t deliver mega-bucks openings for their tentpoles if they go out of business due to a lack of regular product.

Firestarter is another example of a remake being exceptionally irrelevant due to the specifics of the streaming marketplace. Aside from better special effects and some R-rated gore, the only thing it does better than the 1984 original is cast Michael Greyeyes in the Native American assassin role originally played by George C. Scott. However, the film doesn’t give Greyeyes anything fun to do or say, although by default the bad guys (Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben, Kurtwood Smith, etc.) are more interesting than the good guys in a film that can’t decide whether it’s a horror movie or a superhero origin story.

Here’s the rub: Firestarter is available on Peacock, a streaming service that also currently houses both the 1984 version and the three-hour television sequel. Why would anyone choose to watch this new one when the older and (by default) better versions are available to stream? Like Netflix’s sub-par remake of Rebecca and Warner Bros.’ inferior Robert Zemeckis-directed redo of The Witches, this remake fails the Nightmare on Elm Street test (no one who just wants to watch a random Freddy Krueger movie is likely to pick the 2010 remake) and exists on the same distribution network for about the same amount of money (or entirely “free” to subscribers) as the earlier versions.

Oh well, I’m hoping the Downton Abbey sequel will break out (relatively speaking) next weekend, The Black Phone is terrific and I’m expecting sky-high global grosses from Jurassic World: Dominion in June and Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru in July.

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