As noted yesterday, 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 “sorry to inform you but you’re old now” demographics. However, that’s not helpful for movies specifically aimed at me and/or my parents. With a release in 3,820 theaters, Focus Features’ widest release ever, the period piece sequel earned $16 million in its domestic debut. That gives the Michelle Dockery/Maggie Smith/Hugh Bonneville flick a $52 million global total. So, yeah, a measured win for us geezers.
Even compared to the first film’s $33 million domestic debut, I’d call that business as usual or, at worst, a “successful disappointment.” That’s where a movie opens in Covid times with grosses on par with how it might have opened if it had underperformed in non-Covid times. Even in a non-Covid world, this second Downton Abbey film was never going to perform as well as its blow-out predecessor. That late 2019 release was an event, a feature film continuation of Julian Fellowes’ popular ITV series which somewhat existed as a series finale. 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. It was an event, while this film was “Oh, they made another one.”
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. Heck, apples and oranges perhaps, but it performed a hell of a lot better than The X-Files: I Want to Believe (a $10 million opening in summer 2008) compared to The X-Files: Fight the Future (a $30 million launch in summer 1998). Save for Star Trek, there just aren’t any examples of films that act as in-continuity continuations of television shows that flourished after the first one. Think, offhand, Sex and the City 2 which grossed $295 million on a $100 million budget but earned far less than its $415 million-grossing predecessor.
Even under normal circumstances, I’d have expected a 1/3 drop on opening weekend, which would be around $22 million. A $16 million launch is 27% below that which is probably what was lost due to Covid concerns and/or the folks aware that it’ll be on PVOD in three weeks. The frontloading isn’t great for legs (it earned just 2.16x its $7.4 million Friday gross), but we’re still talking about an over/under $25 million flick that has already grossed $52 million global. Several films performed better during Covid than they might have in normal circumstances (Free Guy, Godzilla Vs. Kong, etc.), but there’s no shame in Downton Abbey: A New Era not being among them. 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 $3.3 million over the weekend. For a star-free slow-burn horror movie like this, that’s now par for the course.