Downton Abbey beat fellow newcomers Rambo: Last Blood and Ad Astra at the box office this weekend. Downton Abbey, of course, began life as an acclaimed television drama, earning a number of accolades over the course of its original run. A film continuation of the show was officially announced in 2018, with the cast all returning to reprise their roles. In addition to being a critical darling, Downton Abbey was always a big draw in terms of primetime ratings, so distributor Focus Features was hoping to parlay that popularity into sizable box office totals.
Despite the brand recognition, Downton Abbey seemed to have its work cut out for it heading into the weekend. It was going up against two other high-profile films: Rambo: Last Blood starring Sylvester Stallone, and Ad Astra, a sci-fi drama starring Brad Pitt. The earliest projections had Rambo coming out on top with a possible franchise high, but the actuals paint a very different picture.
According to THR, Downton Abbey is set to win the weekend box office with an impressive $31 million domestically in its first three days. Both Last Blood and Ad Astra are expected to gross around $19 million in their respective debuts. Holdovers Hustlers and IT Chapter Two make up the rest of the top five.
Downton Abbey was initially pegged for a $15-16 million start, so the film far exceeded the expectations. The show's large following definitely played a part in this development, but the competition wasn't too severe. Last Blood was widely panned by critics (including Rambo's creator), which hurt its commercial prospects. Casual audiences had little incentive to watch the fifth Rambo, knowing that it offered nothing more than excessive action and questionable themes. And while Ad Astra was another prestigious space drama (in the vein of Gravity or The Martian), it lacked the enthusiastic buzz to be a runaway box office hit. For the most part, critics liked the film, but Ad Astra was never going to be much of a draw. Its approach, which has been described as a mix between 2001 and Apocalypse Now, didn't make it very accessible to mainstream audiences.
Focus Features has to be thrilled with this turn of events. Downton Abbey's $31 million opening is a new all-time record for the studio (topping Insidious Chapter 3's $22.6 million), and the film has already recouped its production budget of $13-24 million. This is going to be a huge hit for Focus, and it will likely have strong legs. Unsurprisingly, a majority of Downton Abbey's viewers were older moviegoers, and there isn't much on the horizon aiming for that same demographic. With titles like Joker, Gemini Man, and Zombieland: Double Tap due in the coming weeks, Downton Abbey will have life as a counter-programming option.
- Downton Abbey (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019