The success of Downton Abbey
September 26, 2019
Director Michael Engler, while not a household name, has been an A-list Hollywood player for 25 years now, first making his name when he directed an episode of My So-Called Life in 1994.
In the decades since, Engler has directed episodes of Party of Five, The West Wing, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Parenthood, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and, of course, Downton Abbey.
This week we find Engler taking a rare break from TV to direct the Downton Abbey feature film, which was released last weekend by Focus Features. Abbey surprised by opening at the No. 1 spot at the U.S. box office, selling $31 million in the U.S. (and $30 million outside the U.S.) over its first three days of release. Whoa. The film, which stars all your favorites actors form the series, was written by Julian Fellowes.
So what does Downton Abbey’s success tell us? Well, it tells us that this show has a loyal following, for starters. But I think it tells us something more. The box office has been increasingly dominated by tentpole franchise films aimed at young people for the better part of the last 10 years. Those films have dominated so much so that the habits of theater-going movie fans have been redefined. The theater has become, generally speaking, a place to go and see the big, loud, fancy, expensive show.
The message can be boiled down pretty easily: this big, fancy movie is worth seeing on a big screen and that small, smart movie will look just fine on your big screen at home.
The success of a film like Downton Abbey tells us that hey, maybe there’s still an older crowd out there that’s willing to go out to the theater if you make something they really want. For example: I think a new Twin Peaks film would do very well and I think that next year’s Sopranos prequel will do well.
Also at the Box
A flick I’ve been looking forward to all year, James Gray’s sci-fi thriller Ad Astra, finally hit theaters last weekend, taking the No. 2 spot at the U.S. box with just over $19 million in domestic sales. Add in foreign market sales and Ad Astar has made $45 million. Not great for such an expensive film, but who cares — the reviews are good and word-of-mouth should keep this flick earning for another month or so.
I saw the movie on opening weekend and can confirm critic Sean Fennessey’s claim that it’s a “new masterpiece.” I truly didn’t know James Gray had this in him.
Ad Astra finds leading man Brad Pitt in classic leading man form and master cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk, Let the Right One In) at the top of his game.
Ad Astra is big, gritty, beautiful, and poetic, and I would not be at all surprised if Pitt, Gray, and Van Hoytema all have their work on the film recognized come Oscar season. This is probably the first or second best film I’ve seen so far in 2019.
Next up at the No. 3 spot is Rambo: Last Blood, which sold slightly less than Ad Astra despite receiving a pretty rough batch of reviews. It: Chapter Two cooled off a bit, taking the No. 4 spot, selling $17.2 million, bringing the flick’s 17-day worldwide sales total to just under $360 million. And, finally, at No. 5 we have Hustlers, which sold another $17 million, bringing the flick’s 10-day worldwide sales total to about $73 million. Look for this one to get some Golden Globe — and maybe even Oscar — nominations. Jennifer Lopez’s performance, in particular, is excellent.
Also of note: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood continues to roll, recently hitting the $345 million mark, making it QT’s second best-selling film to date behind Django Unchained (his worst film in my opinion).
New this Week
As we head towards next weekend’s hotly anticipated Joker, this week we see the release of new animated children’s film, Abominable, and it looks ... well ... abominable.
Also out, though only on 25 screens, is Christopher Morris’s The Day Shall Come, starring Marchant Davis and Anna Kendrick. Looks OK.
Mostly, I think people will be going to see Ad Astra, Rambo, It, Downton Abbey, and Hustlers. Personally, I’d love to see Ad Astra have a big second weekend, as I really do believe it to be an instant classic.