Movies aren’t just for the younger set as “Downton Abbey” topping both “Ad Astra” and “Rambo: Last Blood” at the box office. All three films catered to an older demographic and accounted for nearly $70 million of domestic ticket sales together. 60 percent of “Downton Abbey” buyers were over the age of 35 with nearly half being the 55 and older crowd. 64 percent of “Ad Astra’s” buyers were over 25, and 66 percent of “Rambo: Last Blood’s” was also over 25 years old.

With over 60 of moviegoers for last week’s number two film, “Hustlers,” studio heads might want to pay attention. As studios continuing crying ‘woe is us,’ at yearly numbers, giving people what they want will still bring them out to the theater.

“It’s a clear message to studios to not forget there’s a big audience out there that feels underserved,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. “It’s a real wakeup call to say it’s not just about superhero movies aimed at younger moviegoers.”

“Downton Abbey” benefitted from being part of a widely beloved property and arrived three years after the TV series wrapped, leaving just enough time for anticipation to grow before audiences no longer were curious to watch the latest adventures of the Crawley family. Meanwhile, “Rambo: Last Blood,” the fifth and final chapter in Sylvester Stallone’s action franchise, served as a nostalgic throwback to a character first introduced in the 1980s. And “Ad Astra” benefitted from buzzy reviews out of Venice as well as the creative team of star Brad Pitt and director James Gray.

“The message is loud and clear: if you make quality movies, people will go to theaters to see them,” says Lisa Bunnell, Focus Features’ president of distribution. “For older moviegoers, quality makes a difference.”

A strong September at the box office could bode well for the rest of fall, a time of year that’s become de rigueur for studios to release smaller indies and dramas. It would be especially welcome since the year-to-date box office is down over 5% from 2018, according to Comscore. Recent successes are helping to narrow that gap, but a number of titles over the next few months will have to resonate in a big way to close that deficit.

downton abbey still a hot property for studios 2019
4127_D015_00199_RC (l-r) Laura Carmichael stars as Lady Hexham, Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham and Michelle Dockery stars as Lady Mary Talbot in DOWNTON ABBEY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Liam Daniel / © 2019 Focus Features, LLC

So, raise those tea cups! The big-screen encore of “Downton Abbey” handily (but very politely) thumped both Brad Pitt’s “Ad Astra” and Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo: Last Blood” in theaters over the weekend in one of the more unlikely box-office upsets.

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“Downton Abbey” debuted with $31 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday, royally trumping the $19.2 million-opening for “Ad Astra” and the $19 million debut for “Rambo: Last Blood.” Neither the draw of Pitt in space nor a bandanna-wearing Stallone could match the appeal a tea party with old friends.

While the stout performance of “Downton Abbey” had come to be expected in the lead-up to release, it was still striking. The debut marked the best first weekend ever for Focus Features in its 17-year history. It ranks as the best opening for any specialty studio in a decade.

“We always knew that there was a tremendous amount of love for ‘Downton Abbey,‘” said Lisa Bunnell, Focus’ distribution chief. “But as we started on working with promotions and special events for the movie, we realized that the love for ‘Downton Abbey’ goes way beyond what we even thought it was going to be.”

Coming four years since the series finale, “Downton Abbey” returns most of the original cast and was penned by its creator, Julian Fellowes. To drum up excitement, Focus hosted dress-ups and “Downton” parties. While the film drew a healthy amount of younger moviegoers (31% under 35), its audience was predictably largely female (74 and older (32% over 55) — a seldom-catered-to demographic.

Critics greeted the film warmly (85% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) but audiences were even more enthusiastic, giving it an A CinemaScore. Having already played for a week in some international territories, “Downton Abby” has already brought in $61.8 million worldwide.

Reviews were similarly strong for James Grey’s “Ad Astra,” which premiered earlier in the month at the Venice Film Festival. It sits at 83% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and comes on the heels of plaudits for Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood” (which has grossed $344.6 million worldwide thus far).

“Ad Astra,” the latest from the director James Gray, stars Pitt as an astronaut sent into deep space to establish contact with his father (a missing veteran astronaut played by Tommy Lee Jones). The movie comes during a period of renewed excitement around Pitt, whose acclaimed performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” had left him with a strong shot at an Academy Award nomination. “Ad Astra” received generally good reviews, with an 83 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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But the film didn’t come cheap. Actually, it was a rather pricey one — especially for an artfully made drama predicated more on father-son psychology than sci-fi spectacle. The production cost around $100 million for 20th Century Fox, which was earlier this year acquired by the Walt Disney Co.

Disney postponed the release of “Ad Astra” from May to September. The result for “Ad Astra” follows disappointing returns for a handful of Fox films released under Disney, including “Dark Phoenix” and “Stuber.” ″Ad Astra,” which added $26 million overseas, will hope good reviews give the film some legs in the weeks ahead.

“It’s been a very rough go for many of the Fox releases,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. “I think this is a solid debut. It’s certainly an expensive movie. Anytime you swing for the fences with an outer space film, you have to spend quite a bit of money.”

Lionsgate’s “Rambo: Last Blood” is the fifth “Rambo” movie going back to the 1982 original, “First Blood.” Fashioned as the franchise’s final installment (Stallone is now 73 years old), it did about the same as the previous 2008 reboot, which opened with $18 million before ultimately grossing $113 million worldwide. “Last Blood” got especially terrible reviews, though; it’s only 31% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

That trio of new releases outperformed a pair of strong holdovers. After two weeks at the No. 1 spot, Warner Bros.′ “It Chapter Two” slid to fourth with $17.2 million. The STX’s stripper tale “Hustlers,” starring Jennifer Lopez, earned $17 million in its second weekend. The two holdovers rounded out the box office top five. Warner Bros.’s “It Chapter Two” picked up an estimated $17.2 million in its third weekend according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. STX Films’ “Hustlers” saw about $17 million in ticket sales during what was its second weekend.

Those very divergent options in theaters added up to a lot of choice for moviegoers. The weekend was up 30% from the same frame last year, according to Comscore.

downton abbey tops brad pitt rambo ad astra
Downton Abbey, Ad Astra, Rambo: Last Blood

North American Box Office

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included.

1. “Downton Abbey,” $31 million ($10 million international).

2. “Ad Astra,” $19.2 million ($26 million international).

3. “Rambo: Last Blood,” $19 million ($9.1 million international).

4. “It Chapter Two,” $17.2 million ($21.3 million international).

5. “Hustlers,” $17 million ($3 million international).

6. “The Lion King,” $2.6 million.

7. “Good Boys,” $2.5 million.

8. “Angel Has Fallen,” $2.4 million.

9. “Overcomer,” $1.5 million.

10. “Hobbs & Shaw,” $1.5 million.

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