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Box Office: How Impressed Should We Be That “Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor” Made $4.8 Million from Its Theatrical Release?

Posted on the 27 November 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Do you remember a couple of years ago when Harry Potter director David Yates accidentally revealed that he was in the early stages of working on a feature film adaptation of Doctor Who?  Not only that but that David Tennant might play the Doctor even though he’d already left the TV show or perhaps they’d cast a big name British actor.  Doctor Who fans briefly lost their minds over this news.  It didn’t take long for Steven Moffat, the show’s head writer and Executive Producer, to hike his proverbial leg in verbally marking his territory, fending off Yates and proclaiming that any type of film would have to go through him.  Furthermore, he assured everyone that a film would be respectful to the continuity of the show, and whoever is playing the Doctor on the show at the time would be the person to play the role on film.

Well, after Monday fans in the United States appear to have rather loudly proclaimed there might actually be a genuine market for a Doctor Who film.  Playing on 660 3D screens across the United States for a one-night only cinematic event, the 75 minute 50th Anniversary special Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor brought in a total of $4.8 million.  This was easily the second best domestic gross for any film in release on Monday, well ahead of Thor: The Dark World‘s $1.3 million but still well behind The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘s $12.3 million.  It equates to a per-screen average of $7,155, far better than Catching Fire’s $2,960 for the day.

It is worth noting that by being released on 660 screens, Day of the Doctor technically qualifies as having received a wide release, as the cut-off between a limited and wide release is 600 screens.  Also, remember that Day of the Doctor already aired on BBC America this past Saturday meaning a great many of the fans viewing the special in theaters on Monday had likely already seen it on TV over the weekend.


Of course, box office figures are typically meaningless without any context.  So, let’s look a litte closer.  A one-day gross of $4.8 million is more than all but 5 movies made over  the entirety of the most recent weekend.  In fact, if you go back an entire month a gross of $4.8 million in a mere day would have landed Day of the Doctor in the domestic box office top 10 each weekend, as high as #6 on the list on two different occasions.   Notable 2013 films which grossed less in their opening weekends than Day of the Doctor did in one day include:

  • The Fifth Estate = $1.7 million
  • Paranoia = $3.5 million
  • Machete Kills =$3.7 million
  • Bullet to the Head = $4.5 million
  • Getaway = $4.5 million
  • Battle of the Year = $4.6 million
  • Tyler Perry Presents Peebles = $4.61 million

Then again, those are each huge bombs.  So, just because Day of the Doctor did better doesn’t necessarily mean a proper Doctor Who film is a guaranteed hit.  Plus, it’s not really a fair comparison.  The better comparison would be to films which were also released in a limited engagement.  The most recent one would be the Wizard of Oz 3D, which was released for a one-week engagement this past September.  It grossed $3 million its opening weekend, which was actually an improvement upon the performance of other recent 3D re-releases Top Gun and Raiders of the Lost Ark, both of which failed to even cross $2 million in their re-release weekends.

To be fair, these figures for Day of the Doctor are certainly inflated by the $15 ticket price, a 3D bump.  So, let’s adjust that.  According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the average ticket price at the moment is $8.05, and Day of the Doctor sold 320,000 tickets.  If those tickets all sold for the average ticket price Day of the Doctor‘s one-night gross would come out to $2.57 million.  That’s still amazing.  The BBC put up an episode of Doctor Who which had already aired two days prior, dropped it in theaters on a Monday night, and asked it to compete with box office behemoths like The Hunger Games and Thor: The Dark World.  Yet even after you adjust for the 3D ticket price bump it still doubled what The Dark World made.

Day of Doctor

Day of the Doctor also received limited preview screenings on Saturday night in the United States as well as a limited Saturday opening on 440 screens in the U.K. It’s per-screen average from the Saturday showings in the U.S. was second to only Catching Fire, and in grossing $2.91 million at the U.K. box office it set a record for alternative content, a category used to describe anniversary re-releases and live streaming of musicals, plays, and concerts.

By comparison, the numbers for Day of the Doctor‘s traditional venue, i.e., TV ratings, are good but probably not as impressive.  It set a new BBC America ratings record with 2.4 million viewers/3.6 million when you include the encore showing, and in the U.K. it was the most watched Doctor Who episode since the 2010 Christmas special.  That’s all fine and good, but how often do we ever get to talk about Doctor Who actually having made money at the box office like a proper film would?

Yes, these circumstances are beyond rare and unique, and it didn’t stay in theaters long enough for us to see if there would have been any significant drop-off past that first day or couple of days.  However, with or without the benefit of 3D for one day Doctor Who had the second most successful film in release.


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