While tracking had the weekend box office set for a near-photo finish between the new openers and two holdovers, Downton Abbey won the weekend rather handedly, in a record opening weekend for distributor Focus Features. But the weekend overall was still a good one for Hollywood, finishing as the fourth largest September weekend of all time, and the first weekend in 14 months (and the first September weekend ever) where the top 5 movies all made over $15 million each.
Topping the box office was Downton Abbey, which made $31 million in its opening “weekend” (Focus is including $2.2 million from preview screenings on September 12, so its true weekend gross should be $28.8 million). Tracking had the film opening under $20 million, clearly underestimating the size and passion of the show’s fanbase, which rushed out to see the film. among direct continuations of a TV show (not counting remakes with new casts), the opening is the second biggest of all time, behind only Sex and the City ($57 million) and in the same range as Sex and the City 2 ($31 million), Star Trek: First Contact ($30.7 million), Bruno ($30.6 million), and The X-Files ($30.1 million).
Those films were all fairly front loaded and missed $100 million total, a fate that Downton looks likely to repeat, if its daily patterns are any indication. After its $13.8 million start (that includes the Sept. 12 previews and $2.1 million from the regular Thursday previews), the movie dropped -30.7% to $9.6 million on Saturday, or a 1% increase from its raw Friday number. Focus is estimating a 20% fall on Sunday, which seems a bit generous considering the norm for September Sunday drops is 30-50%, but perhaps the overlap between the Downton fandom and Sunday Football games is minimal. Either way, the film will likely experience a steep drop next weekend, but with an older audience the film might recover with decent legs afterwards, leading the film to a $80 million total, which would be the second best total of all time for Focus Features, behind only Brokeback Mountain.
In second place by a nose was Ad Astra, with an estimated $19.2 million. Among recent fall sci-fi/space releases the opening is one of the weakest, coming in well behind the likes of Gravity, Interstellar, even Arrival. It’s also on the lower end for Brad Pitt vehicles, below releases this decade like Moneyball and Fury. However, the opening is still a minor win for 20th Century Fox, giving them their second biggest opening weekend since the Disney acquisition, showing that non-franchise, adult-aimed stories can pull in an audience for their new owners. There is however a question of how the film’s legs will perform. The film has been accused of being not particularly crowd-pleasing, and the B- it received from Cinemascore seems to bear that out (the film also has an audience score of 45% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I find that score less reliable than most). The film will probably drop off quickly once Joker and Gemini Man come for the movie’s audiences, leading to a $50 million total, leaving it to overseas audiences to recoup the $80 million budget.
Rambo: Last Blood came in a close third with an estimated $19 million. The opening is on the low-end of expectations, and just above the unadjusted opening of the previous installment, 2008’s Rambo ($18.2 million). The film will probably have legs similar to that film, finishing a little above it with a $45 million total.
In fourth and fifth place were last weekend’s top two movies, IT: Chapter Two and Hustlers, in what could be a photo finish when the actuals are released tomorrow. IT: Chapter Two made an estimated $17.2 million, a -56.5% drop (the worst in the top 10) that continues the sequel’s accelerated drop-off from the first installment. In fact, this films’ third weekend for the film is only $300,000 above the fourth weekend for the 2017 original ($16.9 million). At this point the film’s legs are unlikely to recover, so it will probably continue to drop before finishing with a final total in the $210 million range.
Hustlers grossed an estimated $17 million, a -48.8% drop from its opening weekend. While not a great drop, avoiding a drop over 50% at least indicates that WOM is not as bad as its Cinemascore and Rotten Tomatoes audience score indicated. The film shouldn’t have much direct competition for its female audience over the next month, so it has a chance at recovering over the coming weeks with solid legs, which should be enough for a $100 million total.
Weekend Estimates for September 20-22
1 New DOWNTON ABBEY Focus Features $31,000,000 ($31,000,000)
2 New AD ASTRA 20th Century Fox $19,210,000 ($19,210,000)
3 New RAMBO: LAST BLOOD Lionsgate $19,015,000 ($19,015,000)
4 (1) IT: CHAPTER TWO Warner Bros (NL) $17,245,000 ($179,165,563)
5 (2) HUSTLERS STX $17,000,000 ($62,553,213)
6 (5) THE LION KING Disney $2,572,000 ($537,592,304)
7 (4) GOOD BOYS Universal $2,510,000 ($77,305,605)
8 (3) ANGEL HAS FALLEN Lionsgate $2,400,000 ($64,689,679)
9 (7) OVERCOMER Affirmation $1,500,000 ($31,567,203)
10 (6) FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW Universal $1,460,000 ($170,613,810)