Focus Features’ Downton Abbey has conquered the weekend box office, pulling in $31 million in North America, according to Variety. That’s more than $10 million more than either of its closest rivals, Rambo: Last Blood and Ad Astra, which are currently dueling for second place, and the second highest specialty opening in a decade (after Inglourious Basterds). Michael Engler directed the film from a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, who created the original ITV/PBS series.
The result surprised box office observers, who had projected that Rambo: Last Blood would win the weekend. But, in an unprecedented development for the British aristocracy, this wasn’t a case of Downton Abbey eating Rambo: Last Blood’s lunch so much as it was more lunch for everybody. Rambo’s $19.015 million was in line with predictions for the latest chapter of Sylvester Stallone’s long-running franchise, and it’s difficult to imagine a moviegoer who planned to see Rambo opting for Downton Abbey at the last minute. Similarly, Ad Astra’s $19.2 million was on the high end of what analysts expected for director James Gray’s look at fathers and sons and outer space.
As often happens, the reason analysts were caught flat-footed seems to be that they didn’t account for the possibility that Downton Abbey might appeal to an underserved demographic: 74% of Downton Abbey ticket-buyers were female and 60% were older than 35. For whatever reason, the audience really responded to Downton Abbey’s fantasy vision of wealthy people who weren’t vicious dimwits who’d cheerfully murder us all for a nickel’s profit: With an “A” CinemaScore, the film out-tested both Ad Astra and Rambo: Last Blood. Focus Features president of distribution Lisa Bunnell credited the film’s success to its focus on family, in a statement that illustrated how flexible the meaning of the word “family” can be:
Audiences were clearly ready to come back to Downton and visit the Crawleys and all the familiar faces upstairs and downstairs. At its core, it’s a story about family, and audiences, both original fans and newcomers, are uplifted by that laughter and joy of the film. We’re thrilled to be a part of something that began nearly 10 years ago with our friends and colleagues at NBC International and Carnival Films, and to have it remain with the NBCUniversal family with us now and do so well is amazing.
As for returning movies, It: Chapter Two and Hustlers did fine, with $17.2 million and $17 million respectively. The second half of the It saga has now earned $179 million domestically; Hustlers is up to $72 million. At the other end of the scale, The Goldfinch didn’t break a million in its second weekend despite playing on 2,542 screens, ruling out whatever faint hopes Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios may have been nurturing that their Donna Tartt adaptation would become a sleeper hit. And director Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary Halston pulled in the least money over the weekend of any film tracked by Box Office Mojo, earning $1,158 in its 14th week. Here’s the trailer, which focuses on the aristocracy of a different era:
The Downton Abbey film takes place in 1927 and Halston launched his J.C. Penny line in 1983. So by the law of cinematic nostalgia, we can expect a period film about the tasteful, refined elites of the early 1980s to exceed box office projections sometime around 2075. See you at the movies!