Weekend Box Office: ‘Firestarter’ Flames Out With $4 Million

There was a single new wide release this weekend, which is a shameful abdication of duty on the part of the studios still relying on movie theaters to deliver super-sized openings for their tentpole releases. As has been the case since at least January, the biggest threat to movie theaters isn’t Covid but rather a lack of movies being offered to theaters on the regular. Even this summer there are barely a dozen biggies between May and August, as studios are either still gun-shy (ridiculous as A Quiet Place part II shattered concerns about Covid-era earnings for surefire hits almost a year ago), still prioritizing streaming glory (ask Netflix how that’s going) or, admittedly, dealing with a production and post-production bottleneck from Covid-era stoppages. It’s probably a mix of all of the above, but this weekend’s only newbie was Blumhouse’s frankly miserable Firestarter.

The film, which got miserable reviews and a C- from Cinemascore amid a noticeably quiet ad campaign, earned just $3.8 million domestic and $5.8 million worldwide over the weekend. 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. Moreover, Firestarter was offered concurrently on Peacock in a deal that likely covered whatever Universal spent in terms of production and marketing. Three years ago, I might have criticized Universal for releasing such a direct-to-DVD-worthy horror re-adaptation into theaters, arguing that it harmed the notion of a theatrical release being superior to available-at-home movies. But in 2022, we’re just grateful that studios are releasing anything into theaters at all.

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 still 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. For the love of God, I am begging you from the bottom of my soul, stop trying to turn every non-superhero IP into an implicit superhero movie. I promise you; audiences aren’t going to be more excited for Elvis because folks are calling him a superhero. Anyway, 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 (it has earned $29 million overseas thus far), The Black Phone (due June 24, alongside, ironically, Elvis) is terrific and I’m expecting sky-high global grosses from Jurassic World: Dominion on June 10 (my almost-11-year-old is beyond psyched) and Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru on July 1. Alas, I’m still angry that Peacock canceled that inexplicably terrific Saved by the Bell relaunch.

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