‘Doctor Strange 2’ Likely to Rule In Week 3, ‘Downton Abbey 2’ & ‘Men’ To Invigorate Specialty Box Office
After two weeks dominated almost entirely by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we get some new blood this weekend with the sequel to Focus’ specialty box office blockbuster Downton Abbey and A24’s latest with genre auteur Alex Garland, Men. Neither will have the sort of fireworks we hope for in May, and Doctor Strange should rule the roost once again in its third weekend, but there’s enough to keep audiences coming until Top Gun: Maverick swoops in next weekend and takes the top spot and the premium screens.

Despite having the best opening of the year, 40% ahead of The Batman, Strange 2 ended up falling behind the Caped Crusader’s reboot in the second weekend gross ($66.5 million compared to $61.7 million). The Marvel film still has a good lead on the DC film when comparing the post-second weekend cumes and it will probably catch up to it to become the year’s top grosser ($369 million is the number to beat), but that is looking less certain than a week ago and the $400 million milestone, which would make it a top 10 MCU grosser, is looking far less likely.

Much will be determined by this weekend and whether the film has another good sized dropoff or if it stabilizes. Spider-Man: No Way Home plummeted 67.5% in weekend two, down about the same as Multiverse of Madness, but it followed that with astonishing holds for months, with only one weekend falling more than 40% until April. This is unlikely given the phenomenal word of mouth on Spidey and the more mixed word of mouth on Strange 2, and the drops in the 40’s that The Batman had in weekends three through seven also look like a long shot.

Its closest MCU comps are Captain America: Civil War and Iron Man 3, which both opened smaller but had bigger second weekends than Multiverse of Madness, though the second week weekday numbers and the 12 day cumes for all three are running neck in neck. Those two films finished at $408 and $409 million, and we’ll see this weekend if Multiverse can meet their $32.9 and $35.8 million weekend three grosses. Either way, crossing $300 million in 12 days is certainly a Marvel-ous feat, and even if it has a franchise low multiplier of 2, that's still an outstanding finish of $374.8 million, even if it looks disappointing compared to the opening. Globally it is looking even better. It has already passed The Batman in its overseas numbers and this weekend will cross the DC film’s $768 million worldwide total to become the year’s top grosser.

There is actually a chance that Doctor Strange 2 misses the top spot at the domestic box office this weekend. If Downton Abbey: A New Era is able to live up to its predecessor’s $31 million debut, that would put it above Strange 2’s gross if it drops 50%. Both films may end up higher or lower, but it is certainly possible for the sophomore film outing of the Abbey-verse to beat the Multiverse. With that said, these chances are slim, though Downton Abbey 2 should still invigorate the specialty box office and will at least be the biggest non-MCU opener since The Bad Guys four weeks ago and possibly since Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore five weeks ago.

The first film adaptation of the British historical drama television phenomenon was a winner, grossing $100 million domestic and becoming the biggest hit yet for Focus, beating the 13 year record of $83 million held by Brokeback Mountain. The new film is set in the late 1920s when a silent film production is shooting at the abbey, just on the cusp of the emerging era of talkies. The good reviews (81% on Rotten Tomatoes) suggest fans of the series will be satisfied. Despite the positive reception, though, there are many reasons to expect it to open much softer than the first film, namely that its older skewing audience is the one segment that is still taking it slow in returning to theaters.

While a new Downton Abbey may be the killer app to entice older audiences back to cinemas, the recent increase in Covid-19 cases may be a deterrent here, even if that factor has little impact on most films in theaters. On top of that, the legs of the first film, with a 3.2x multiplier, might be tough to achieve on this one given its planned Peacock premiere on July 4. The film rolled out internationally three weekends ago and is down from the first film in nearly every market, with a notable drop coming from the U.K. The series’ homeland was the second biggest market for the first film with a $34 million cume, but the sequel looks like it will fall short considerably, down 38% in its opening weekend and with steeper second and third weekend drops. Nonetheless, the low budget for the series means the decline doesn’t kill the chances of profitability, unlike what we saw with the disappointing box office of the expensive adult-skewing sequel Death on the Nile.

The other film going wide this weekend is also set in the English countryside, but with a very different take on the milieu. The horror film Men from A24 and writer/director Alex Garland stars Jessie Buckley as a woman who goes on vacation following the death of her husband only to be tormented by various members of the male sex, all played by Rory Kinnear.

Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina broke new ground for A24, being their first film to cross $20 million, and with a cume of $25.4 million it remains their seventh biggest release to date. His follow-up Annihilation grossed $32.7 million, but it was less of a success considering its bigger budget and wide release from Paramount. It is unclear if Men can perform as well as those brainy sci-fi films, as though the film is getting plenty of praise from critics (77% on Rotten Tomatoes), word is that audiences may find it alienating.

A24 is coming off what will soon be their biggest hit ever and is the biggest arthouse success since the pandemic began. Everything Everywhere All at Once is now at $48.2 million, showing phenomenal legs that have kept it in the top five in its eighth (and sixth wide) week. It is now closing in on Uncut Gems’ $50 million domestic cume and will become the new box office champion for the company this weekend.

While the new titles are a welcome sight considering two of the past three weekends had no new releases to open above $4 million, it’s still a downer to see two weekends in a row in May that will fall below the $100 million line. Yes, it’s a big improvement over May 2021 where the entire month’s gross was a hair below the overall box office for the May 4-6 weekend this year. However, the last May outside of the pandemic era to have a sub-$100 million grossing weekend was in 2006 when the overall gross for one weekend was $99.3 million. We have to go back to 2000 to find two May weekends to miss the cut. It’s a sign that while many individual titles are living up to their pre-pandemic potential, the box office can’t return to previous highs until the volume of releases picks up.