SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Focus Features’ Downton Abbey: A New Era is coming in at $16M, and while some might snipe that it’s lower than the first one’s robust $31M start, particularly against a production cost that’s double from the first at $40M, keep in mind this is a sequel to a period drama franchise, not Marvel.
For Focus, it’s their best opening during the pandemic, ahead of Northman‘s $12.3M start. By the way, New Era‘s opening is right where tracking spotted it earlier this week.
It stands to reason that grosses would wane, even in a healthy marketplace for this older adult IP, given how established it is. Rivals would say the first movie was capturing lightening in a bottle, arriving three years after the six season series ended. The sequel isn’t really selling a cliffhanger here which would create a stampede, i.e. the downstairs staff got poisoned and there’s no one around to cook the holiday goose. Nonetheless, greenlighting a sequel was in full order given how the 2019 movie ranked as the best domestic start ever for a Focus Features title.
On the bright side, older audiences did come back this weekend for New Era; even if it wasn’t at the admissions level of the first film, the share of over 45s and 55s should come as a sign of optimism. Uni is reporting 48% were over 55. Similar to the first, it’s leaning 73% women. If New Era marked some people’s first time back to the cinema during Covid times, they’ll see everything is normal, and hopefully this will be a catalyst for more older women to attend; they having been reluctant during the pandemic.
“The only way to get adults back into cinemas is to offer them quality entertainment,” said Focus Features Distribution Boss Lisa Bunnell, “This movie opens doors for other people to see other movies.”
“You have to keep putting movies out aimed at adults,” Bunnell added about the longevity of specialty cinema.
Again, from an exhibitor’s point of view (especially arthouses), not a studio’s accounting department, A New Era reps more business in the wake of Focus Features’ The Northman and A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once which is officially the studio’s top grossing movie stateside with $52M. Some exhibitors have mentioned that Downton 2 repped the first time they saw older patrons since pre-pandemic.
New Era will be on a 17-day exclusive theatrical window per Universal’s plan with movie theaters.
One thing you have to hand to Universal, despite Jeff Shell’s desires and previous experiments to crunch the window, is that in the end, they’re committed to theatrical and building a diverse slate. While that business m.o. might sound like a broken record, it’s true. Together, Universal and Focus are providing 30 movies to cinemas this year. And we talk diversity, it doesn’t just mean appealing to various demographics, but different types and scales of movies.
James Gray, who was here at Cannes with another Focus Features title this past week, his autobiographical Armageddon Time, which received rave reviews, spoke to us about his fear on how many studios are abandoning broad slates. Especially now as we come back to cinema during Covid, there’s the belief that only tentpole franchises and superhero movies work. If there’s no breadth of product, how do create culturally impactful cinema going forward?
“The studios should be willing to lose money for a couple of years on art film divisions, and in the end they will be happier,” Gray told us. As the old movie business adage goes, let the upsides of the blockbusters pay for the riskier bets. Despite the $70M spend on Focus Features’ sublime The Northman (which was co-financed by New Regency), at the end of the day, the surplus from Jurassic World Dominion and the next Minions should help back up for any shortfalls.
As Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav looks to get his head around motion picture economics, he should know that art doesn’t always come at widget prices. And it’s not just all about DC movies.
First of all, bravo on Zaslav for committing to 20 to 25 theatrical titles annually (up from last year’s 17) and giving them an exclusive window as they’ll perform better on HBO Max vs. those made directly for the service. Also good on canceling CNN+ and saving money; I like my news live, not delayed.
However, there were things in the latest May 18 Joe Flint penned WSJ piece which gave me pause, specifically his scolding of Warner Bros. motion picture brass over committing to Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho, even though they had a sense it might not profit. Their defense: It was all about their loyalty to a filmmaker who has delivered them Oscars and actually billions of box office. No one thought Million Dollar Baby would work, but Eastwood made it for $30M, it grossed $216M WW and won four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. American Sniper was a huge surprise and wound up being Eastwood’s highest grossing movie ever with over $547M worldwide; the pic played like a Marvel red state movie and no other rival motion picture studio has emulated that formula or success yet. Eastwood’s The Mule cost $50M, and made over $103M stateside, $174M WW, and it played to a wide audience during the year-end holidays. The filmmaker is working in the twilight phase of his career, can often dynamite an older crowd to come out, makes his films on a budget and delivers prints on time. Why in the name of dear Baby Jesus, Mr. Zaslav, would you not want to be in business with Mr. Eastwood? First of all, he fits your model of economics (you do want to cut $3 billion) and second Cry Macho came out during the pandemic when older audiences weren’t going to the cinema. For the time being, it’s going to be a while before movies, even those such as Downton Abbey – A New Era, ultimately profit as audiences are still making their way back. The first Downton Abbey made an $88M profit on a $20M production cost. The sequel is more expensive due to Covid safety protocols, additional shoot locations and expanded cast.
True, there’s a price point at which every movie can be made, and projected to be profitable. However, Zaslav should be careful not to burn down longtime Warner Bros. filmmaker relationships, nor the quality of great cinema in the quest to cut $3 billion. Wait until you step on the set of George Miller’s Furiosa which is the biggest Australian production yet, fueling over $233M to the country’s local economy. It’s highly debatable that the first movie, Mad Max Fury Road, made a profit off its $150M production cost and its $375M-plus global gross. But the 2015 movie yielded 10 Oscars noms, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as six Oscars wins and has been arguably christened an immediate cult classic. Oh, and don’t forget Warner Bros. brass milked out a potential spinoff franchise off here.
I’ve often quoted an awards publicist who says when it comes to campaigning, it’s an art, not a science. The same axiom can be applied to feature film economics, even though that aggravates the finance department. Consider architecture, particularly here in Southern California, Mr. Zaslav. Could you imagine flooding the hills with track homes? How tacky would that be? There are some architects who go to great lengths to make a everlasting impression in the horizon, utilizing innovative, pricey, and crazy materials. Filmmakers who make movies for motion picture studios are cut from the same cloth. Some times you gotta spend. Can you imagine telling James Cameron he’s not allowed to spend on future Avatar sequels?
Don’t forget: You’re in the house of Kubrick, Humphrey Bogart and Harry Potter. All studios are grappling with meeting the audience demands of a post-pandemic marketplace, and as Netflix has a financial reality check, the notion, and overspend, on streaming content is one which many need to grasp and balance.
Perhaps, it’s in that part of the ledger where Warner Bros. Discovery should be saving money.
Sunday AM estimates:
1.) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Dis) 4,534 theaters, Fri $8.5M (-50%), Sat $13.8M, Sun $9.3M, 3-day $31.6M (-51%)/Total $342M/Wk 3
2.) Downton Abbey: A New Era (Foc) 3,820 theaters, Fri $7.38M, Sat $4.75M, Sun $3.89M, 3 Day $16M/Wk 1
3.) The Bad Guys (Uni) 3,705 (-83) Theaters, Fri $1.46M (-14%), Sat $2.7M, Sun $1.9M, 3-day $6.1M (-13%)/Total $74.3M/Wk 5
4.)Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Par) 2,943 (-173) theaters, Fri $925K, Sat $1.83M, Sun $1.18M, 3-day $3.94M (-15%)/Total $181M/Wk 7
5.) Men (A24) 2,212 theaters Fri $1.4M, Sat $1M, Sun $832K, 3-day $3.29M/Wk 1
6.) Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24) 1,576 (-150) theaters, Fri $889K (-3%), Sat $1.2M, Sun $962K, 3-day $3.1M (-6%)/Total $52.3M/Wk 9
7.) Fantastic Beasts…Dumbledore (WB), 1,923 (-655) theaters, Fri $500K (-24%)/Sat $825K/Sun $580K/ 3-day $1.905M (-25%)/Total $93M/Wk 6
8.) Firestarter (Uni) 3,413 theaters, Fri $560K (-64%), Sat $830K, Sun $510K, 3-day $1.9M (-50%)/Total $6.79M/Wk 2
9.) The Lost City (Par) 1,396 (-279) theaters Fri. $415K (-12%), Sat $685K, Sun $400K, 3-day $1.5M (-12%)/Total $99.26M/ Wk 9
10.) The Northman (Foc) 1,263 (-671) theaters, Fri $290K (-41%), Sat $430K, Sun $300K, 3-day $1.02M (-42%)/Total $33M/Wk 5
SATURDAY AM UPDATE: Focus Features is still seeing Downton Abbey: A New Era at $18M over 3 days after a $7.38M Friday, which, if it maintains course, is a good opening for this period, older-skewing sequel. Again, all of this is for second place after Disney’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness which is seeing $30M in weekend 3 off a $8.5M Friday. Many rivals were spotting aggressively north of $20M yesterday afternoon, and that no longer seems the case. Still, among debuts for older-skewing movies during the pandemic, Downton Abbey – A New Era bests that 3-day (over the Thanksgiving stretch) of last year’s House of Gucci ($14.4M).
Similar to the first, Downton Abbey: A New Era skewed female at 73%, with 48% over 55 (wow), 65% over 45 and 79% over 35. Bigger shares than the first movie, but alas, less gross. Exits are great at A CinemaScore and PostTrak of 93% and a 79% recommend. Diversity demos were 74% Caucasian, 10% Latino and Hispanic, 8% Black, and 8% Asian/other. East coast and Southeast were best regions with top cities being Dallas, Philly, DC, Atlanta and Salt Lake City. More on pic’s marketing can be found here.
EntTelligence says roughly 630K moviegoers saw Doctor Strange 2 on Friday, raising its patron count to 24M. Downton Abbey 2 clocked 640K, including preview shows. Meanwhile, the older-skewing audience got into the theater before 8PM to see the feature broken down as follows: 18% before 1PM, 27% between 1PM to 4PM, 47% between 4PM to 8PM, while 8% were after 8PM.
A24’s Men, booked at 2,212, made $1.4M on Friday for what is expected to be a projected $3.3M opening. On 578 theaters less than Green Knight’s opening weekend, the pic is coming in lower than that summer A24 feature, which did $6.79M. Pic was 76% certified fresh, which is on the lower end of good scores on Rotten Tomatoes and par for an A24 genre movie, and divided audiences with a D+ CinemaScore (that’s lower than Midsommar‘s C+).
PostTrak polled audiences weren’t that far from CinemaScore, lowballing it with a 52% positive and 30% recommend. Guys showed up at 58%, with 76% between 18-34 year old and diversity demos at 57% Caucasian, 21% Latino and Hispanic, 9% Black, and 13% Asian. Coasts saw the best business, where eight of the top locations came from; the other two being at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.
Meanwhile, A24’s Everything Everywhere crossed $50M yesterday. It’s technically at $50.017M, and today will surpass Uncut Gems ($50.023M) to become A24’s highest-grossing movie stateside, as we told you yesterday.
Also opening this weekend on the arthouse side is D’Souza Media’s voter fraud documentary 2000 Mules which saw $300K yesterday at 415 sites. OK business in Midwest and South. Outlook is $720K.
All ticket sales are at $77M, -16% from last weekend, and off 48% from the same frame in 2019.
Saturday AM estimates:
1.) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Dis) 4,534 theaters, Fri $8.5M (-50%), 3-day $30M (-51%)/Total $340.5M/Wk 3
2.) Downton Abbey: A New Era (Foc) 3,820 theaters, Fri $7.38M, 3 Day $18M/Wk 1
3.) The Bad Guys (Uni) 3,705 (-83) Theaters, Fri $1.42M (-16%), 3-day $5.7M (-19%)/Total $73.9M/Wk 5
4.)Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Par) 2,943 (-173) theaters, Fri $920K (-8%), 3-day $3.95M (-15%)/Total $181M/Wk 7
5.) Men (A24) 2,212 theaters Fri $1.4M, 3-day $3.3M/Wk 1
6.) Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24) 1,576 (-150) theaters, Fri $889K (-3%), 3-day $3.2M (-4%)/Total $52.3M/Wk 9
7.) Fantastic Beasts…Dumbledore (WB), 1,923 (-655) theaters, Fri $500K (-24%), 3-day $1.85M (-27%)/Total $93M/Wk 6
8.) Firestarter (Uni) 3,413 theaters, Fri $540K (-65%) , 3-day $1.73M (-55%)/Total $6.79M/Wk 2
9.) The Lost City (Par) 1,396 (-279) theaters Fri. $415K (-12%), 3-day $1.55M (-9%)/Total $99.3M/ Wk 9
10.) The Northman (Foc) 1,263 (-671) theaters, Fri $280K (-42%), 3-day $1M (-42%)/Total $33M/Wk 5
FRIDAY MIDDAY UPDATE: Focus Features sequel Downton Abbey: A New Era is heading toward an $18M opening after a projected $8M Friday that includes $1M in Thursday night previews.
That will put the Simon Curtis directed title in second place for the weekend behind Disney’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness which will hold on the No. 1 crown with a projected $7.4M-$7.6M Friday, -56% on the low end, for a $26M-$28M industry estimated third weekend at 4,534 theaters. This will propel the Sam Raimi movie to $340.4M on the high end by Sunday.
There’s a lot of hope riding on Downton Abbey: A New Era that it will dynamite the 55+ crowd out of their homes, and finally get them into cinemas after staying safe during the pandemic. While the movie was never expected to open to the pre-pandemic levels of its 2019 predecessor, which notched the best opening ever for Focus with $31M (and ended its domestic run at $96.8M), realize that this is a sequel to a period movie, so declining ticket sales were evident even in a healthy environment. Marvel, Downton is not despite its upstairs-downstairs drama. Downton Abbey: A New Era is booked at 3,817 locations, easily Focus Features widest release ever. The pic’s previews at $1M are 52% off from chapter one. Rival industry estimates are bullish that the Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, etc. period drama can polish off a $20M+ start, however, let’s see what Saturday brings. Downton 2 remains a super hit for period films; realize there was a day when these types of films would end their domestic runs in the low $20M-range, i.e. the Merchant Ivory canon of Remains of the Day, Room With the View and Howards End.
The first Downton Abbey clocked 74% women with 32% over 55, and 50% over 45; demos we don’t often see on a top ranking pic at the box office.
In 3rd is Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Bad Guys at 3,699 locations, with a fifth Friday of $1.3M, -23%, and a 3-day of $5.4M, -23% for a running total by Sunday of $73.7M.
Fourth goes to Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 at 2,943 sites with a seventh Friday of $900K, -14% and 3-day of $3.85M, -17%, and total of Sunday of $180.9M. The sequel has already blown past the original’s $148.9M by 21%.
A24 is opening its reteam with Ex-Machina filmmaker Alex Garland, the horror movie Men, starring Jessie Buckley, which is also debuting over here in Cannes in Directors’ Fortnight. Pic is booked at 2,212 and is looking at a Friday between $1.4M-$1.5M and an opening around $3.5M for fifth place. Meanwhile, the NY-based arthouse studio, which has kept specialty alive with Everything Everywhere All at Once, will see that Daniels’ movie become its highest grossing ever stateside on Sunday with $50M-$52M.
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