SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Refresh for more analysis and chart 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 period drama franchise, not Marvel. For Focus, it’s their best opening during the pandemic, besting 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 older adults, given the type of established IP here. 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’ movie.
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%. 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.
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.
New Era will be on a 17-day exclusive theatrical window per Universal’s plan with movie theaters. The bright side is that it’s not theatrical day-and-date, nor is it going straight to streaming without a big studio marketing campaign like some other specialty cinema movies.
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. Essentially, 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 20 to 25 movies annually (up from last year’s 17) and giving them a theatrical window as they’ll perform better on HBO Max vs. those made directly for the service.
However, there were things in the latest May 18 Joe Flint 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, and 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 broad…