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Box Office: ‘Scary Stories’ Spooks ‘Dora’ as ‘The Kitchen,’ ‘Art of Racing’ Crash

With Universal's money-printing Fast & Furious franchise as the film's mighty launchpad, and no other tentpoles opening against it, Hobbs & Shaw was always assured the number one perch at the box office in its second weekend, creating a more interesting race for the second spot.

And Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a spine-tingling kid-horror curio from the soon-to-disappear CBS Films, turned out to have the fright stuff, opening to a better-than-expected $20.8 million for silver.

"Scary Stories had two things going for it—the whole horror vibe, and that it felt like a family movie, though it was PG-13," said ComScore box-office analyst Paul Degarabedian. "It found this perfect niche within the marketplace."

Boosting Scary Stories, which adapted the beloved and very creepy kids' books series by Alvin Schwartz, was its genre-appropriate tact of scaring audiences into seats mainly on the promise of real scares that would remain accessible to a young audience.

"You don’t need to spend a fortune to make a great horror movie, because the best horror happens in the mind," Degarabedian told Fortune. "You’ve got the R-rated horror, much more going for the literal jugular, and then PG-13 horror. It’s arguably the most communal of genres and perfect for the movie-theater experience."

Genre bona fides may have helped Scary Stories' case. "For cinephiles, knowing Guillermo del Toro had something to do wit this movie certainly didn’t hurt," added Degarabedian (the Shape of Water director produced, while Autopsy of Jane Doe director André Øvredal helmed).

The mid-range pricetag of $28 million—which the film should easily pass barring an excessively frontloaded end-result that would see the movie tank next week (instead of, as expected, benefitting from the strong word-of-mouth and critical praise it's enjoyed) —makes the movie an even sweeter sorrow for CBS Films, which has seen its gears shift to streaming as it's folded into CBS Entertainment.

"You can be No. 1 in terms of profit but No. 2 on the chart, and be happy as hell," summed up Degarabedian. Scary Stories could have legs at the box office, he added.

"There’s got to be a cool factor," said the analyst, who expects kids to spend this school week talking up Scary Stories as the it-movie to see (ahead of It: Chapter 2 next month, of course). "It’s fairly obvious the titles you can’t imagine kids running to talk to each other about. If it’s forbidden in some way, that puts the cool factor much higher."

Faring less well, though still decently, was Dora and the Lost City of Gold, opening on the lower end of predictions with a so-so $17 million, especially given the built-in appeal of the Nickelodeon TV classic from which it was adapted.

"Dora did fine," opined Degarabedian.  "With The Lion King out there, and Scary Stories, and a pileup of newcomers, which tends to happen in August, it distinguished itself enough that it can be called a success."

The news was much more dire for The Kitchen and The Art of Racing in the Rain, two titles that sought to lure a slightly more adult demographic into theaters and jointly failed on that count.

The writing had been on the wall for Fox 2000's The Art of Racing in the Rain, the talking-dog dramedy about a race-car driver (Milo Ventimiglia) and his canine bestie (voiced by Kevin Costner) that was said to be among the titles making Disney concerned about Fox's business decisions. Even with a pricey $50 million budget before marketing, the movie skidded to a dead-on-arrival $8.1 million, a far cry from the hit Marley & Me its ad campaigns had aimed to emulate.

Warner Bros.'s The Kitchen—a period crime-drama that sought to capitalize on the star power of actors Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss playing against type as mob wives—opened very low in seventh place with a paltry $5.5 million, marking a new box-office low for McCarthy just a year after her previous: adults-only puppet caper The Happytime Murders.

"If you’re chasing the adult audience and they’re either distracted or there’s too much out and then you have bad reviews on top of that, it’s a complicated thing to make a movie a hit," said Degarabedian. "It’s a jigsaw puzzle, and if some of the pieces are missing, it doesn’t come together."

Timing is everything, especially as studios work to compete with mega-hitmaker Disney, whose Lion King remake blew past $1 billion and continues to rack up more ones and zeroes at the global box office. The Angry Birds Movie 2 will hit theaters on Friday, adding another family-targeted offering to the pile. "This is August," said Degarabedian. "It’s the gladiator arena."

Family movies, said Degarabedian, are Hollywood's "bread and butter," but this weekend's results show the importance of crafting a strong marketing strategy as well as giving audiences a real reason to get to the multiplex.

"This was an interesting weekend," he added. "August can be either a dumping ground or land of opportunity." And more often, it turns out to be both.

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