Here’s a little, but huge, box office stat: Focus Features’ Downton Abbey has outstripped the $83 million domestic box office gross of three-time Oscar winner Brokeback Mountain to become the label’s highest-grossing title of all time stateside. Brokeback Mountain owned the record for the last 13 years, and on Monday Downton beat it with $83.5M.
The current domestic box office for the Michael Engler-directed feature adaptation of the Carnival TV series is $84.9M. Worldwide take for Downton is $155.1M, while Brokeback‘s final global stands at $178M.
“This isn’t just a huge achievement for Focus Features, but a huge sign that specialty moviegoers still very much want and are looking to have that theatrical experience,” Focus chairman Peter Kujawski tells Deadline. “Downton offered that and audiences responded in a big way.”
Indeed, Downton is a huge bright spot on the specialty front. At a time when streaming is stealing away genres from the box office and sending features like the Breaking Bad movie El Camino to Netflix, along comes the big screen version of Downton, an IP that Focus and parent Universal were smart about when it came to not leaving money on the table.
It’s not the first time Universal has rolled the dice on a small pic for the big screen: Green Book amassed $321.7M at the global box office and won the Best picture Oscar, while Jordan Peele’s Get Out won him the Original Screenplay Oscar and yielded a $255.4M global take. Imagine the money lost by sending those titles straight to streaming?
Downton Abbey, produced by Gareth Neame, Julian Fellowes and Liz Trubridge, opened to $31M, becoming Focus Features’ biggest domestic opening of all time, beating the $22.7M debut of 2015’s Insidious Chapter 3 and becoming the label’s first No. 1 opener since George Clooney’s The American over Labor Day weekend in 2010. The pic is also one of the first big box office hits — joining BlacKkKlansman, Darkest Hour and Won’t You Be My Neighbor — under Focus distribution boss Lisa Bunnell. She fielded numerous phone calls from exhibitors demanding Downton prints and made sure the pic was booked on their screens.
The success of Downton also proved the vitality of the mid-September box office, which can often be drowsy. Downton opened on September 20 and in its fifth weekend is still cooking with $4.9M, off just 39%.
Another takeaway and truism from Downton Abbey for the industry: Don’t ignore the senior crowd, because when you can serve the right film to them, they’ll come out. Typically they come out slowly to a film, and distribs have to fight with exhibition about constantly holding over those titles, but with Downton, they came out en masse. In the first weekend, Comscore/Screen Engine PostTrak exits showed the over-45 crowd repping 50% of Downton‘s attendance, with 74% females, and the 55+ sect repping 32% of all moviegoers.
Yes, it’s the young kids who stream, not so much the older crowd. And that’s just fantastic for the theatrical business.