LOS ANGELES - The Crawley family still has the royal touch at the box office. "Downton Abbey: A New Era," a sequel to the big-screen continuation of the beloved British television show, captured $16 million from 3,815 North American theatres in its domestic debut.
Though down slightly from initial projects, those returns mark an encouraging start at a time when older audiences have been selective about going to the movies.
There had been understandable concern about the second "Downton Abbey" in terms of commercial prospects, and not because long-time fans of the series had tired of devouring the onscreen palace intrigue and class-system drama.
Other than "House of Gucci" and James Bond sequel "No Time to Die," many pandemic-era films catering to adults (such as Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" remake" and the Will Smith sports drama "King Richard") struggled to sell tickets despite positive reviews. So it's no small feat that nearly 50% of ticket buyers for "Downton Abbey: A New Era" a feel-good story set in a familiar franchise, were 55 and older.
Those ticket sales landed "Downton" in second place, but they were not enough to dethrone Disney's "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." The latest Marvel movie, which has towered over box office charts for three weekends in a row, added another $31.6 million from 4,534 theatres between Friday and Sunday.
To date, "Doctor Strange" has generated $342 million in North America and $461 million internationally, pushing the film past $800 million at the global box office. If "Doctor Strange" is able to sustain momentum, the superhero adventure could become only the second movie in Covid times to cross $1 billion at the box office after "Spider-Man: No Way Home." Since the "Strange" sequel (like "No Way Home") isn't playing in China or Russia to due geopolitical tensions, it's been harder for tentpoles to reach the coveted billion-dollar mark.
At the international box office, "Downton Abbey: A New Era" has earned $35 million, boosting its worldwide tally to $51.7 million.
"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes returned to write the sequel, which was directed by Simon Curtis. The first "Downton Abbey" movie became a surprise box office hit in 2019, opening to $31 million at the domestic box office and ultimately grossing $96 million in North America and $192 million globally.
The warmly embraced sequel picks up as the wealthy Crawley family voyages to the South of France to uncover a mystery about the dowager countess' (played by Maggie Smith) newly inherited villa. The cast also includes Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle. Variety's Peter Debruge called the film an "affectionate group hug," which, of course, is the kind of escapism that "Downton Abbey" want in their historical soap operas.
David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, called Fellowes "the George Lucas of period English sitting-room drama."
"This is a very good opening ... Reviews are excellent, as they were for the first movie," Gross said. "'Downton Abbey' is a unique and accomplished series."