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How Impressed Should We Be That “Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor” Grossed $4.7 Million in U.S./$10.2 Million Globally?

UPDATED: 11/27/13-According to The Hollywood Reporter, from Saturday to Monday Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor grossed $10.2 million from its worldwide screenings.  This includes the $4.7 million from the Monday screenings in the United States we already knew about.  It’s next leading market was the U.K., where it grossed $3 million in two days.  THR indicates every single screening over there sold out.  The special was also released theatrically in Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Iceland.

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 $4.7 million (via Entertainment Weekly).  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.  Screenings of Day of the Doctor sold out in 11 different American cities (via DarkHorizons).

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 $4.7 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 $4.7 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, 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 (via DarkHorizons), and in grossing $3 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.  In a mere 24 hours, it became the top-selling TV episode on iTunes and Amazon.  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.



  1. I was shocked when I got to the theater and found it crammed with Whovians! Our theater started with one 7:30 showing and ended up with 5 sold-out showings. Everyone there seemed to be as surprised as I was at how many people turned out. It even usurped the Catching Fire theater briefly. 🙂

      1. Thanks for adding an anecdotal account to my article meant to provide box office context. That’s cool you got to have that experience. I was unable to attend one of the 660 cinematic screenings in the U.S. since it didn’t come to my town and I couldn’t make the drive to the nearest showing. I can only imagine how surreal it must have felt showing up at a theater and seeing a packed crowd of Whovians, and then looking up at a proper 3D movie screen and seeing freaking Matt Smith and David Tennant as the Doctor(s). I gather from your site that you might talk about that a little at some point.

        This is not the first time Doctor Who has played in movie theaters. If I recall correctly, trailers for David Tennant’s final episodes actually aired in theaters in the U.K., and once the episodes arrived they received some very limited screenings in U.K. movie theaters. They did okay but nothing like “Day of the Doctor.” Plus, if you go back far enough there were the non-canonical theatrical films starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor mostly chasing around Daleks.

        What “Day of the Doctor” did in the US is astonishing. The average theater for it was substantially more crowded than the ones showing Cathing Fire that same day. It makes me wonder how well something like the new season of Sherlock might do if it played in theaters instead of on airing PBS or maybe after it had aired on PBS. More immediately, it makes me wonder if they might try to milk more out of this and arrange additional screenings across the U.S. at some point over the next month.

        I should add a quick mention that I updated my article since you’ve commented. More information came out, namely that the one day figure for the Monday screenings was $4.7 million and not $4.8 million. Moreover, from Saturday to Monday it is now estimated “Day of the Doctor” grossed $10.2 million worldwide, the two leading markets obviously being the U.S. and U.K.

  2. Given the initial plan to have one showing, but ending up with five, I think even the theaters were surprised at how popular it is in the US. And the tix were not cheap; I paid $14 incl the 3D upcharge. I suspect we’ll see more of this kind of niche movie event in the future. I’ve been attending the Rifftrax Fathom Events for a couple of years and those seem to also be doing well enough to keep making more.

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