Fair or not, Focus Features’ Downton Abbey: A New Era was seen as a definitive test case as to whether older audiences would return to theaters after a year-end spree of ignoring the likes of The Last Duel, West Side Story, King Richard and essentially anything other than House of Gucci. Granted, movies like The Batman and Spider-Man: No Way Home don’t get to $369 million and $804 million without some help from the “admit it, you’re old now” demographics. However, that’s not helpful for films specifically aimed at older demographics. And with a release in 3,820 theaters, Focus Features’ widest release ever, the period piece sequel earned $7.3 million on Friday, including $1.1 million in Thursday previews. That positions the Michelle Dockery/Maggie Smith/Hugh Bonneville release for an $18 million debut weekend.
Compared to the first film’s $33 million domestic debut, I’d call that… business as usual. Even in a non-Covid world, this second Downton Abbey film was never going to perform as well. That late 2019 release was an event, a feature film continuation of Julian Fellowes’ popular ITV series which somewhat existed as a series finale. Very slight spoilers, but the film ended with certain ducks in a row, including a major character seemingly meeting their maker from a long-term illness, although that character seems to be fine in this follow-up. The first film was pitched and embraced as a “mythology episode,” while this one (concerning like at the house disrupted by a movie shoot) came off more like an “episode of the week.” Think Star Trek: Insurrection compared to Star Trek: First Contact.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have expected a 1/3 drop on opening weekend, which would be around $22 million. So, an $18 million launch is 19% below that which is probably what was lost due to Covid concerns and/or the folks aware enough to know that it’ll be on PVOD in three weeks. Several films performed better during Covid than they might have in normal circumstances (Free Guy, Godzilla Vs. Kong, arguably Spider-Man: No Way Home and most likely Top Gun: Maverick), but there’s no shame in Downton Abbey: A New Era not being among them. The first film cost over/under $15 million, and I can’t imagine this one cost that much more. At worst, this will be a case of a sequel merely grossing about what we expected from its overperforming predecessor.
The only other major wide release was Alex Garland’s Men. The A24 release is exactly what you’d expect if told that the guy behind Ex Machina and Annihilation was making a small-scale A24 horror movie so that it earned a D+ from Cinemascore instead of an F has to be disappointing. The single-location chiller, about a widow (Jessie Buckley) meeting several hostile men (all played by Rory Kinnear) during a theoretically therapeutic getaway, isn’t deep and I don’t begrudge those who didn’t like it. However, it looks gorgeous, is well-acted and delivers the promised climactic “Wait, what?!” imagery. I’m half-inclined to argue that Garland was working backward from the finale, but I digress. The film earned $1.4 million on Friday for a likely $3.4 million weekend. Again, business as usual.