Big Screen Take On TV Series ‘Downton Abbey’ Is A Hit With $31M+ Opening, Reps Record For Focus Features – Sunday Final

Downton Abbey
Focus Features

4th Update, Sunday AM Final: w/chart You would think that in this day and age, the best place for a feature movie based on a popular TV series would be on a streaming service, right? But no, this weekend’s $31M opening of Focus Features and Carnival Films’ Downton Abbey continues to underscore the power of the big screen in its ability to generate money on lower budget fare in a digital explosive world. Downton‘s overseas total jumped to $30.8M, putting this $20M production (before P&A) at a running total of $61.8M WW.

Can you imagine the money left on the table here if the Universal decision was made to send Downton Abbey straight to its new streaming service, Peacock? Part of that reason might have to do with age, as the much older-skewing Downton fans (74% females, with the over 55+ sect repping 32% of all moviegoers) aren’t statistically streamers. That’s something the young crowd largely does.

Last night at the Simi Valley Studio Movie Grill, the largely older female crowd clapped before and after the movie played. One moviegoer remarked as we exited, “When can I see the next episode?” Downton‘s cash yesterday was $9.6M, and though that’s -30% from Friday’s $13.8M, remember that opening day includes $4.3M from two preview nights. If you back that money out, then Downton‘s Saturday is +1%. The expectation is that there will be a 25% ease today in its till. They say that the older adult crowd takes its time to come out to the movies. Well, with an A CinemaScore and 4 1/2 stars on PostTrak, there’s more business to be had with Downton down the road, including repeat business from its fervent fan base.

In the wake of Hustlers continuing to attract younger, diverse females between 18-44 ($17M, in 5th place in its 2nd weekend, -49%) –and not to sound like a broken record– but lower/mid budget films still work at the B.O. in the wake of a gargantuan Disney IP summer. Women are, without a doubt, a very lucrative part of the box office when you deliver a product that hits their nerve, whether it’s Girls Trip, Sex and the City, Bridesmaids, Hustlers or Downton. 

Downton Abbey
Focus Features

Audience was comprised of 72% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 10% Asian/Other, & 7% African American. The over 45 crowd repped 50% of Downton‘s crowd. The branded piece of period IP from director Michael Engler and producers Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge and writer/producer Julian Fellowes, played best on the East Coast along with the Mid-West, but was strong everywhere.

As we mentioned earlier in the weekend, Downton is the best opening of all-time for Focus Features, besting the $22.7M debut of 2015’s Insidious Chapter 3, and it’s one of the first big hits along with BlacKkKlansman, Darkest Hour and Won’t You Be My Neighbor under distrib boss Lisa Bunnell. It’s also Focus’ first No. 1 opener since George Clooney’s The American over Labor Day 2010.

Talking to Deadline this morning about how the award-winning TV series was primed for the big screen, Bunnell said, “For audiences, re-experiencing Downton, it’s like coming together with their best friend from high school after not seeing them for five years. There’s an amazing amount of love and comfort in seeing these characters on the big screen. We made it into a theatrical event. There were theaters that had tea parties, special menus; these fans wanted to be together with other fans. I went to a lot of showings and saw the reactions of peoples talking to each other about everything that was Downton. It was everything about a theatrical experience you want to have, with people interacting, looking each other in the eye. It makes the world seem smaller when they can get together over an event they have in common.”

Focus launched the campaign for Downton on December 14 last year with a teaser trailer tied to the opening of Mary Poppins Returns. At CinemaCon 2019, the studio launched the iconic character teaser posters, which were simultaneously dropped digitally.  On May 21, the full trailer and teaser poster launched on the TODAY Show, theatrically on Rocketman, yielding globally 40M+ views to date. There were more one-sheet unveils, with three exclusive posters at Dolby, AMC, and Regal, and the final Upstairs/Downstairs characters on July 26 to coincide with the opening of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Arclight Hollywood created the Downton Abbey Arclight Experience, which transformed the upstairs bar into the world of Downton Abbey.

Focus had 11 global promo partners on Downton, including Viking Cruises, Art of Shaving, Saks Fifth Avenue, Books A Million, Magnolia Bakery, Fairmont Hotels, Cost Plus World Market, Republic of Tea, Visit Britain, Walkers Shortbread, and Inside Access Chase United Mileage Plus.

Together with Comcast, Symphony Focus produced an NBC Primetime special that aired this Thursday (Sept 19) called “Return to Downton,” hosted by Derek Hough, which took a look back at the TV series, as well as sneak peeks of the feature film. PBS, who originally aired the TV series in the US, worked with Focus to create 2 PBS specials: a pledge drive hosted by Jim Carter, as well as another show called Downton Abbey Live.

On the digital marketing front, one of the biggest promotions for Focus was with AirBNB, which launched last Tuesday with an opportunity to stay at Highclere Castle, the home of Downton Abbey, for one night. Digitally, there was a recap video of the series’ six seasons that broke down everything that happened in the TV show to allow fans to re-watch moments before seeing the movie. That series recap clocked over 5M views. Also, Focus launched their new digital show, called “Reel Destinations,” that features a tour of Highclere Castle, which clocked over 2M views.

Ad Astra
Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) heads into space in James Gray’s “Ad Astra Fox

Older males, who studios continually rely on to drive ticket sales every weekend, are being pulled in two different directions this weekend between Brad Pitt’s serious space movie Ad Astra ($19.2M in 2nd place) and Rambo: Last Blood ($19M in 3rd — second best opening in the franchise behind Rambo: First Blood Part II‘s $20.1M) now neck-and-neck.

Going into the weekend, some believed that Fox/New Regency’s Ad Astra should have sat out, as they saw Downton taking away all the female Pitt fans, and Rambo the older males. However, reviews coming out of Venice propped up the profile of Ad Astra, in that it’s coming in at the higher end of its tracking. Rambo was squashed by critics (31% Rotten) and that, in turn, took a toll on the pic’s opening. Many in distribution figured it would go toe to toe with Downton for No. 1.

Another thing that Ad Astra had that Rambo did not were premium ticket sales, meaning from 380 Imax, 340 Premium Large Format, and 130 D-Box locations. The funny thing is how Downton chugged against these two pics: Distrib sources say that Downton shuts down after 8PM, as its crowd goes to bed.

Still, Ad Astra‘s ticket sales aren’t anything to brag about, given its exorbitant cost. We heard the movie was greenlit for $80M, and reshoots put the pic over $100M. Bona Film Group covered 30% of the bill and we’re told they’re overseeing China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The pic’s total worldwide debut was $45.2M, $26M coming from 44 offshore territories sans Brazil and Italy, and that only means Ad Astra will truly experience the weight of gravity at the box office. If Ad Astra ends up in the $150M WW range, it will end up only losing $30M or so in two years per finance sources after all markets play out. If it end up at less it loses more. One thing is for certain, and that is there’s a divide here between critics (82% certified fresh) and audiences (B- CinemaScore, 2 1/2 stars) which doesn’t bode well for this pic’s legs. Same thing happened with last fall’s First Man, and that did less than a 3x multiple off its $16M with a $44.9M domestic final. Ad Astra drew 57% guys, 73% over 25 with 60% between 18-34. The mix was 59% Caucasian, 16% Hispanic, 14% Asian/Other, & 11% African American. The James Gray-directed movie played best in the West.

New Regency prides itself on making smart, edgy auteur-driven movies like The Revenant, and sometimes the investment doesn’t pan out. Fox gets a distribution fee of around 10-12% on New Regency pics. Fox isn’t driving the ship like they were on Dark Phoenix, though we hear Disney was involved in marketing — which, by the way, with one sheets of Pitt’s close-up in a bubble head, doesn’t really scream gotta-see. A marketing stunt with Pitt having a 23-minute space-to-Earth call with astronaut Nick Hague on the International Space Station was unlisted on YouTube attracting less than 92K views on NASA’s YouTube. There is another cut of the interview at 17 minutes that’s clocked 108K views. On Twitter the video rec’d 4K likes, and on Facebook 351K views. These aren’t strong social media numbers despite the stunt being a valiant partnership between Disney and NASA. RelishMix says in their recent social media report that the Pitt Q&A is “one of the most impressive looks at the film, its star, and its themes”.

We heard that test scores weren’t great with the first cut of the movie, prompting re-shoots (for which Pitt wasn’t available). No one is talking trash about this production being off the rails, despite Fox and Disney pushing the release date from Jan. 11 to Memorial Day weekend to now. The excuses for the delays were always VFX and re-shoot related. We also heard that the filmmakers wanted to come out before Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and they were advised that wasn’t a wise decision. More than anything, the less-than-amusing opening here for Ad Astra can be squarely blamed on astronaut fall fatigue at the box office. Gravity and The Martian set the high bar, and were two very different films, and First Man and Ad Astra are the also-rans which aren’t redefining the sub-genre.

Says RelishMix about the social media chatter prior to opening, “Ad Astra looks like others in the sci-fi genre – it has a very high concept, and clearly the campaign is built to avoid spoilers. But, the difficulty with that scenario is that the audience is clueless as to the plot. As a result, unless you’re a huge fan of the genre or Pitt, there’s confusion manifesting itself in convo that skews negative until genre and Pitt Fans come in to counter other arguments. Regardless, this is a familiar scenario, one that 20th Century Fox (to its credit) has tried to combat with lots of looks at the movie, not to mention the full participation of its star.”

Rambo V

Financially speaking, Rambo V is likely in better shape than Ad Astra, not only because it has a lower production cost around $50M, with most of that covered by foreign sales. Lionsgate acquired US and U.K. for under $10M, and like most of their steak-and-potato action movies, and as far as their side goes, they’ll make money after all ancillaries are counted. For Lionsgate to economically get involved in this pic, they bet that Rambo V would open to at least $15M, and the pic is ahead of their own estimates. P&A was efficient under $30M.

Stallone, natch, promoted the pic to his 20M fans. The movie’s FB page served up a legacy menu of Rambo clips from the last four films, with looks at Last Blood as well. “The menu is a great demonstration of how the campaign has used this final work of Rambo to celebrate the earlier films — and sell this weekend’s opening, too. The conversation is proof that fans have enjoyed the films in this series, and these clips have helped fuel the discussion of ‘which is best’ and favorite moments, etc,” says RelishMix. To further boost Rambo V‘s profile months ago, Stallone received a career tribute at the Cannes Film Festival before it wrapped, with a screening of a 4K restoration of First Blood and an exclusive Palais trailer drop of Rambo V. But when you’re at Cannes, and you’re looking to create buzz about a film, you screen the print, not its trailer.

Rambo V received a B CinemScore, which is less than the last one which got an A-.  PostTrak was 3 1/2 stars and a 56% definite recommend. Those who bought tickets were 66% males, 75% over 25 years with 48% over 35. Diversity breakdown was 46% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic, 14% African American, & 15% Asian/other. The Stallone sequel played best in the West and South.

Other notables this weekend: Warner Bros./Amazon’s near $50M feature adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch plunged 71% in weekend 2, with $770K and a 10-day total of $4.5M. Drama (and period, at that) works on the big screen; it’s just that it happens to be branded, like Downton Abbey. The Focus Features title led overall weekend ticket sales to $124.9M per Comscore, +36% from a year ago. Year-to-date we’re still lagging behind 2018 by -5% with $8.3 billion for the period of Jan. 1-Sept. 22.

Sunday AM studio reported estimates:


thumb rank pic dis scrs(cg) fri sat sun 3-day total wk
1 Downton Abbey Focus 3,079 $13.8M $9.6M $7.6M $31M $31M 1
2 Ad Astra Fox/Dis 3,460 $7.1M $7.3M $4.7M $19.2M $19.2M 1
3 Rambo: Last Blood Mill/LG 3,618 $7.1M $6.9M $4.9M $19M $19M 1
4 it Chapter Two  NL/WB 4,156 (-414) $4.8M $7.8M  $4.7M $17.2M (-57%) $179.1M 3
5 Hustlers STX 3,525 (+275) $5.4M $7M $4.6K $17M
$62.6M 2
6 Lion King Dis 1,978 (-387) $597K $1.2M  $697K $2.57M (-30%) $537.6M 10
7 Good Boys Uni 2,025 (-711) $730K $1.1M $630K $2.5M (-41%) $77.3M 6
8 Angel Has Fallen Mill/LG 2,505 (-571) $658K $1M $649K $2.4M (-47%) $64.7M 5
9 Overcomer Sony 1,818 (-475) $405K $645K $450K $1.5M (-45%) $31.6M 5
10 Hobbs & Shaw Uni 1,391 (-659) $360K $700K $400K $1.46M (-48%) $170.6M 8


Chart as of Saturday AM:



thumb rank film dis. screens (chg) friday(vs. prev fri) 3-day total wk
1 Downton Abbey Focus 3,079 $13.8M $31M $31M 1
2 Ad Astra Fox/Dis 3,460 $7.1M $19.1M $19.1M 1
3 Rambo: Last Blood Mill/LG 3,618 $7.1M $18.3M $18.3M 1
4 Hustlers STX 3,525 (+275) $5.4M (-59%) $17.5M (-47%)  $63.1M 2
5 It Chapter 2 NL/WB 4,156 (-414) $4.8M (-62%) $15.4M (-61%) $177.3M 3
6 Lion King Dis 1,978 (-387) $597K (-29%) $2.58M (-28%) $537.6M 10
7 Good Boys Uni 2,025 (-711) $733K (-38%) $2.57M (-39%) $77.3M 6
8 Angel Has Fallen Mill/LG 2,505 (-571) $660K (-47%) $2.4M (-47%) $64.7M 5
9 Overcomer Sony 1,818 (-475) $405K (-46%) $1.48M (-46%) $31.5M 5
10 Hobbs & Shaw Uni 1,391 (-659) $360K (-48%) $1.46M (-48%) $170.6M 8


2nd Update, Friday Midday: Wow, Focus Features. Universal’s specialty arthouse label is looking at their first No. 1 opener in nine years, the last one being George Clooney’s The American, as Downton Abbey looks to reap a $14.5M Friday (including $4.3M over two previews) for a 3-day of $33M. That will also double as Focus Features’ best opening in its history, besting the $22.7M debut of 2015’s Insidious Chapter 3. 

Venice Film Festival

Fox/New Regency’s Ad Astra via Disney remains ahead of Millennium/Lionsgate’s Rambo: Last Bloodboth for Friday ($7.1M and $6.8M) and the weekend with the Brad Pitt in space movie seeing $18.5M-$20M, and the Sylvester Stallone series finale seeing $17.2M. Friday’s figures include last night’s previews. An opening in the $20M range would be OK if Ad Astra can pull off as the pic will need to work hard abroad to breakeven off it’s $80M-$100M production cost. Rambo, which Lionsgate only has U.S. and UK rights on, cost under $50M.

STX’s Hustlers and New Line’s It Chapter Two will fight over fourth with around $16M a piece. That’s a -52% second hold for the Jennifer Lopez stripper pic and a third weekend decline of -60% for the Andy Muschietti-directed Stephen King sequel. Both are doing around $5M today. Hustlers will be at $61.5M by Sunday, while Chapter Two‘s running total will be at $177.9M.

Downton Abbey
Focus Features

1st Update, Friday 8:06AM: Downton Abbey had the upper hand over Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone star vehicles last night as the Focus Features Michael Engler-directed period film raked in $2.1M from previews at 2,800 theaters. That figure doesn’t include the $2.2M which Downton Abbey grossed last Thursday from its first preview; in total the Carnival Film & Television co-production counts $4.3M stateside.

Fox/New Regency’s Ad Astra came in ahead of Millennium/Lionsgate’s Rambo: Last Blood$1.5M to $1.3M off 7PM showtimes. Ad Astra played in around 3,100 locations while Rambo was booked at 2,900 locations.

Ad Astra‘s start is a bit of surprise given how many are expecting this $80M+ production (we’ve heard as high as $100M before P&A) to be off to a sluggish start in the mid-to-high teens despite great reviews out of the Venice Film Festival with 81% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Ad Astra‘s box office is under The Martian‘s $2.5M, but higher than First Man‘s $1.1M last October which posted a $5.7M opening day and $16M 3-day off an 87% RT fresh score.

Rambo‘s preview cash is just under the Thursday night take of Millennium/Lionsgate’s most recent action pic Angel Has Fallen ($1.5M preview, $7.95M Friday, $21.3M opening).

Rambo V

Comscore/Screen Engine exits show that the Thursday night male-driven crowd enjoyed Rambo a bit more than Ad Astra, 3 1/2 to 3 stars, and a 55% to 40% definite recommend. Downton Abbey, counting 73% females over 25 (who loved it the most at 91%) and 19% men over 25, had the best audience response at 4 1/2 stars and a 72% definite recommend. Ad Astra‘s demo breakdown was 46% males over 25, 30% females over 25, 15% males under 25 and 9% females under 25. Older females enjoyed the pic slightly more than older males, 75% to 72%. Rambo pulled in 52% M25+, 23% F25+, 16% M25- and 9% F25-.

Heading into the weekend, B.O. forecasters say it’s a coin toss between Focus Features’ Downton Abbey and Rambo V winning the weekend with $23M+ a piece, this despite the fact that the former pic has been ringing up a ton of presales ahead of such adult fare as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and The Great Gatsby. We’ll see just how front-loaded Rambo and Ad Astra are. Rambo jumps to 3,618 theaters. Anything over $20.1M for Rambo this weekend reps a record opening in the five-pic franchise. The sequel, which is a finale, was slaughtered by critics at 34% Rotten.

We’re seeing high presales on Downton Abbey given how older female moviegoers plan their visits to the theater. The Focus Features release also has critics on its side with an 85% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

STX’s Hustlers for the fourth time this week beat It Chapter 2 yesterday, $2.35M to $1.7M. First week’s total for Hustlers is $45.5M. Running two week total for It Chapter 2 is $161.9M. Hustlers is expected to be ahead of It Chapter 2, $18M to $17M.


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