When a superhero film and/or Disney release isn’t crashing through the box office, the results tend to be unpredictable—who’d have guessed that The Goldfinch would go down as one of the biggest bombs of all time?—and this weekend’s showdown was between a trio of films that couldn’t be farther apart in tone or aesthetic. This weekend’s box office crown was the prize for a three-horse race between Downton Abbey, the costumed drama/follow-up to the acclaimed PBS series; Ad Astra, the brainy, brooding sci-fi flick from underappreciated auteur James Gray; and yet another Rambo movie, Rambo: Last Blood, which took some uncomfortable cues from the MAGA crowd.
So who emerged victorious between the timeless Dame Maggie Smith, Sad Brad Pitt in Space, and MAGA Rambo? Turns out, people really love their Downton Abbey. According to Box Office Mojo, the film raked in over $30 million at the box office, marking the biggest opening weekend in history for the project’s distributor, Focus Features. Last Blood and Ad Astra, meanwhile, both earned around $19 million apiece—which fell in line with the projections for both films. They didn’t get crushed so much as Downton Abbey exceeded its own expectations.
One reason Downton Abbey blew up might come down to who ended up packing multiplexes: the film’s audience skewed 74 percent female, with over 60 percent of attendees age 35 or older. Apparently you can pry older moviegoers out of their houses with a pristine costume drama, as long as the screening doesn’t have a super late start time. No, seriously, according to Deadline, showings after 8 p.m. were more sparsely attended.
Downton Abbey may be familiar IP, but it’s still nice to see a strong box office weekend coming for something that doesn’t involve caped crusaders—and wasn’t produced by some subsidiary of Disney. There isn’t much of a precedent for wide release films based on TV shows, though that is starting to change. Next month, Netflix is releasing El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on its platform and in a limited number of theaters. Breaking Bad was a phenomenon of television’s Golden Age not unlike Downton Abbey—replace lavish period costumes with meth labs in New Mexico—and while having the movie sequel available to stream will probably prevent El Camino from being able to rack up massive box office returns, it’s an event that’s sure to draw its own rabid fan base (that won’t be as concerned about a late bedtime). AMC is also planning to theatrically release a trio of Walking Dead films centered on Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes. Seeing the success of the Downton Abbey movie should assuage any AMC executives’ concerns that people won’t be interested in seeing The Walking Dead on the big screen, though the show’s admittedly lost a lot of its luster in recent seasons.
But while the Downton Abbey movie sequel came out triumphant on the same weekend as the Emmys—a win for television all around!—things should return to the status quo at the box office in short order. The first weekend of October will see the release of Joker, the Joaquin Phoenix vehicle that’s already been a hit at major film festivals—insofar as claiming the top prize in Venice. Joker might be a superhero film indebted to the work of Martin Scorsese and with an eye toward the Oscars, but it’s still just that: a superhero movie. (Joker’s early box office projections speak for themselves, and will more than double Downton Abbey’s opening weekend if they end up being accurate.)
Alas, Downton Abbey’s strong opening against Ad Astra and Last Blood isn’t symptomatic of any larger trends at the box office—it is, however, a refreshing change of pace from the type of blockbuster fare that typically dominates the weekend. The good news is that the box office doesn’t really have any impact on your life. But still, it’s kind of nice that the most popular movie of the weekend wasn’t MAGA Rambo.