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By Erich Schwartzel
LOS ANGELES -- Two American heroes, Brad Pitt and Rambo, were no match for the British gentry of " Downton Abbey," as the film adaptation of the U.K. television show easily topped the box office this weekend.
"Downton" collected a robust $31 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to preliminary estimates, a healthy start that bucks the trend of recent TV-to-film failures.
" Ad Astra," an outer-space drama starring Mr. Pitt as an astronaut, collected $19.2 million, coming in second place, an earthbound start for a film with an $80 million budget. "Ad Astra" follows several other titles, from "Stuber" to "Dark Phoenix," that were inherited by Walt Disney Co. in its acquisition of the Twentieth Century Fox film studio and that have missed at the box office.
"Rambo: Last Blood," starring the 73-year-old Sylvester Stallone in what is said to be the final installment of the franchise, collected a healthy $19 million in third place. In this film, John Rambo, who fought Soviets in the 1980s, travels to Mexico to take on a drug cartel. It was released by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Millennium Media.
The "Downton" opening is the best-ever for Focus Features, the specialty division of Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures known for critically acclaimed releases such as 2005's "Brokeback Mountain."
About three-quarters of the opening-weekend audience were women, and 60% were over the age of 35.
"Downton" became a popular export almost immediately after premiering in the U.S. in early 2011. Members of the television cast resume their roles in the movie, which ratchets up the stakes and revolves around a pending visit from Queen Mary.
"It's like when you have your best friend from high school, and you haven't seen them in five years, but then you get back together and it's like no time has passed at all," said Lisa Bunnell, Focus's president of distribution.
Bringing a popular television series to the big screen doesn't always mean automatic success. Several attempts in the past several years -- including "Baywatch," "Chips" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." -- have fallen flat.
Focus had a challenge on its hands: Convincing moviegoers that a trip to the theater was necessary for a story they were accustomed to watching at home. The studio treated the release like a much-anticipated superhero movie opening, encouraging audiences to dress up in flapper dresses and hosting tea parties at certain locations.
Opening-weekend audiences gave "Downton" an "A" grade, according to the CinemaScore market research firm. "Rambo" received a "B" and "Ad Astra" got a "B-."
Write to Erich Schwartzel at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 22, 2019 14:43 ET (18:43 GMT)
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