‘Downton Abbey’ Rules Box Office Over ‘Ad Astra’ and ‘Rambo: Last Blood’

On Emmy Awards weekend, as theaters feel the squeeze from both streaming and cable, who comes to the rescue? The movie sequel to the British hit PBS drama “Downton Abbey” slays the competition –and sets a Focus Features record–by pulling older women to over 3,000 theaters.

And really rare these days (particularly for low-performers September and October): all three new movies opened to over $19 million. And the top five all came in over $17 million, unusual at any time of year.

On the other hand, there’s a big gap between the top five and the rest of the weekend slate (no other films grossed even $3 million). But the net result notches a $30-million bump from the same weekend last year, and could boost the lagging year total going forward. Will 2019 catch up to 2018? Not likely. But the margin should fall significantly. This gets the shortfall to around $500 million and under 6% for the first time in quite a while.

In any case, three new film stronger openers with diverse appeal is terrific news for the industry. More like this, please, and less thinking that no more than two films can open wide in a week.

"Downton Abbey"

“Downton Abbey”

Focus Features

Openers

With $2.2 million previews prior to Thursday adding to the impressive $28.8 million initial weekend estimate –it could wind up even higher– $30 million marks by far Focus Features’ best opening ever, even though Universal’s specialty label has opened more than 20 movies on over 2,000 screens.

“Downton” should end up as second-best Focus grosser ever (adjusted, Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” is tops, at $114 million). Certainly its initial surge and strong positive reactions on Film Twitter made it feel like the senior equivalent to a Marvel title. Which reinforces what makes movies popular these days. Add new elements familiar IP, but stay inside the diehard fan comfort zone. It doesn’t matter what the ticket buyer age is.

The significant change: until recently, Focus would have given this film a platform release and move out slowly. But with reviews not expected as the prime push, and awards not the primary goal, Focus followed a template close to that of the surprisingly successful Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic “On the Basis of Sex,” also not a critics’ favorite, which went to 2000 screens in its second week.

While the upcoming award season will be more conventional, don’t be surprised in 2020 to see more specialty titles move to early wide release, even without any presold branding.

Ad Astra

“Ad Astra”

F Duhamel/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

Initially at least, James Gray’s “Ad Astra” (20th Century Fox/Disney) is edging out “Rambo: Last Blood” (Lionsgate) for #2, although that could change. The delayed release of “Ad Astra” and transition to a new overseer (Disney is not really comfortable with such a risky $100-million standalone) made this release a real question mark.

Luckily, the Venice premiere scored excellent reviews for the movie and resurgent star Brad Pitt post-“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” And “Ad Astra” follows the less cerebral “Gravity” and “The Martian,” two fall successes. The “Ad Astra” B- Cinemascore suggested some moviegoer resistance, but its Saturday uptick of 2% is positive, and its international future is promising: the space epic opened to $26 million in 44 territories. That’s about 50% better than last year’s failure “First Man,” which opened to $3 million less domestic, even with star Ryan Gosling.

With its cost, “Ad Astra” likely will lose money. But so far the film is finding an audience in a period when even with Pitt this was not guaranteed.

"Rambo: Last Blood"

“Rambo: Last Blood”

Lionsgate

“Rambo: Last Blood,” the $50-million relaunch of the “Rambo” franchise, actually sold more tickets than “Ad Astra” with the latter adding revenue from IMAX dates. Produced by action expert Millenium and financed by foreign pre-sales, the movie was picked up domestically by Lionsgate for $10 million before marketing.

“Last Blood” marks the lowest opener in the Rambo series, which started with “First Blood” in 1982. A more apt comparison is the 2008 reboot. This is only $4 million less than its adjusted start. This reasonable audience response, it’s a mirror image of “Downton Abbey”: the familiar and comfortable, tweaked, this time for the older male action audience.

Holdovers

“Hustlers” (STX) and “It: Chapter Two” (Warner Bros.) are virtually tied for fourth. Lorene Scafaria’s film dropped 49%, not a great hold but not a disaster either. Women’s movies tend to drop less on their second weeks: “Bad Moms” and “Girls Trip” around 40%, “Crazy Rich Asians” under 10%. That this is more of a drama factors in, along with facing three new films, one of which boasted strong female appeal.

“Hustlers” still looks headed to around $100 million, which is not STX’s best (“Bad Moms” reached $130 million adjusted). This is the most original of the recent impressive openers, though, which makes its response perhaps the most encouraging.

“It: Chapter Two” dropped 26%, and finds itself $21 million shy of $200-million domestic. It also could get in the neighborhood of $500 million worldwide. That’s impressive.

The remainder of the Top 10, all films five weeks or longer into their runs, totaled just over $10 million. Really frightening was week two of disaster “The Goldfinch” (Warner Bros.), which despite holding all its dates, fell 71% to #15. Its $770,000 gross suggests that the Pulitzer Prize novel adaptation might not even get to $5 million domestically.

The Top Ten

1. Downton Abbey (Focus) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 64; Est. budget: $22 million

$28,800,999 in 3,079 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $XXXX; Cumulative: $31,000,000

2. Ad Astra (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 80; Est. budget: $90 million

$19,210,000 in 3,460 theaters; PTA: $5,552; Cumulative: $19,219,000

3. Rambo: Last Blood (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 28; Est. budget: $50 million

$19,050,000 in 3,618 theaters; PTA: $5,256; Cumulative: $19,050,000

4. It: Chapter Two (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #1

$17,245,000 (-56%) in 4,156 theaters (-414); PTA: $4,823; Cumulative: $179,166,000

5. Hustlers (STX) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$17,000,000 (-49%) in 3,525 theaters (+275); PTA: $4,823; Cumulative: $52,553,000

6. The Lion King (Disney) Week 10; Last weekend #5

$2,572,000 (-29%) in 1,978 theaters (-387); PTA: $1,300; Cumulative: $537,592,000

7. Good Boys (Universal) Week 6; Last weekend #4

$2,510,000 (-41%) in 2,025 theaters (-711); PTA: $1,240; Cumulative: $77,306,000

8. Angel Has Fallen (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #3

$2,400,000 (-47%) in 2,505 theaters (-571); PTA: $958; Cumulative: $64,690,000

9. Overcomer (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #7

$1,500,000 (-45%) in 1,818 theaters (-475); PTA: $825; Cumulative: $31,567,000

10. Hobbs & Shaw (Universal) Week 8; Last weekend #6

$1,460,000 (-%) in 1,391 theaters (-659); PTA: $611; Cumulative: $170,614,000

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2019-09-22T16:30:21-05:00

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