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FLAME OUT

Firestarter is an unusual flop for the Stephen King universe

Actor Ryan Kiera Armstrong in a scene from "Firestarter"
Blumhouse Productions
Actor Ryan Kiera Armstrong in a scene from “Firestarter”
  • Adario Strange
By Adario Strange

Media & entertainment reporter based in New York

Published

The remake of the classic Stephen King adaptation, Firestarter, bombed at the US box office this weekend, pulling in just $3.8 million. That is less than the original film released in 1984, which drew $4.7 million for its opening ($13 million when adjusted for inflation). 

Universal Pictures distributed the film and it was produced by Blumhouse, the horror-focused studio known for delivering big returns on small budgets via films like Get Out, The Purge, and Paranormal Activity. Given its big studio distribution, the hit-making expertise of Blumhouse, and the usually reliable popularity of King’s characters, Firestarter’s misfire is striking. 

When Drew Barrymore took on the role as a child—her second leading role ever—alongside Martin Sheen and George C. Scott, the film quickly became a cult classic among the many King adaptations. However, that pedigree couldn’t save what critics and moviegoers alike have largely deemed a dud. 

A brief history of King horror makes Firestarter look even worse  

Aside from the challenge of living up to the original, the other bar Firestarter needed to clear was its hybrid release. It premiered on Peacock for paid subscribers on the same day it hit theaters last week. But Peacock only has 13 million paid subscribers, compared to Netflix’s 221 million, so the argument that the film’s availability online might have severely impacted its box office opening result isn’t a strong one. 

Looking back at the history of King adaptations, Firestarter stands out as an aberration. In just the last decade, King adaptations like It, Pet Sematary (television and film remakes, respectively), The Dark Tower, and Doctor Sleep (a sequel to The Shining) all performed well at theaters, despite mixed reviews clouding the prospects of certain films. 

Stephen King’s firewall of adaptation success stretches into the future  

So far, Firestarter hasn’t come close to making its $12 million budget back, with a global box office haul of just $5.8 million. Actors Zac Efron and newcomer Ryan Kiera Armstrong do an admirable job with the poorly repurposed King source material. But newish director Keith Thomas doesn’t manage to live up to the Blumhouse track record of outshining bigger budgeted films in the same genre. 

Firestarter’s failure isn’t likely to damage the Stephen King Industrial Complex of book adaptations. A long list of King-based films are in the works including Salem’s Lot (coming in September) Christine, The Dark Half, The Running Man, and The Tommyknockers

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