Alfonso Cuarón’s outer space survival thriller Gravity defied conventions both creatively and commercially and smashed the opening weekend record for October with a sensational $55.6M, according to estimates, to lead the North American box office accounting for half of all ticket sales in the top ten. The Warner Bros. release starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney took advantage of a perfect storm of sensational reviews, strong starpower, and awards buzz attracting a huge turnout which was especially impressive given that it was an original film with no built-in audience. It opened like a summer tentpole.
Gravity averaged a scorching $15,538 from 3,575 theaters over the weekend and was a major shot in the arm to the 3D and IMAX formats. With its captivating visuals and intense use of CG effects, moviegoers found it a film experience worthy of paying premium ticket prices for. A mind-boggling 80% of the weekend gross came from 3D screens. That’s double the rate that many 3D action films enjoy these days. $11.2M, or 20%, of the gross came from the 323 IMAX locations for a sizzling $34,754 average.
Both Bullock and Clooney set new opening weekend career records with Gravity. Bullock just gave herself a new benchmark this past June with the $39.1M debut of The Heat while Clooney, who doesn’t normally have big openings outside of his signature Ocean’s franchise, beat his previous best of $42.9M set way back in 1997 with the mega-flop Batman & Robin.
After this weekend, Bullock cements her status as Hollywood’s most bankable actress. Four of her last six films have opened to more than $30M. She was the primary lead in all four and none were franchise movies with built-in audiences. With the romantic comedy The Proposal, the football drama The Blind Side, the buddy cop comedy The Heat, and the space thriller Gravity, the Oscar-winning actress sells across all genres. That sets her apart from Angelina Jolie who struggles to open movies outside of her action safety zone.
After generating ample awards buzz by playing a trifecta of key film festivals – Venice, Telluride, and Toronto – Gravity became red hot and then generated fantastic reviews from all around. The PG-13 pic became that rare breed – a prestige picture with broad commercial appeal. Strong marketing helped attract the sci-fi crowd allowing it to pull from multiple audience segments. Friday kicked off with a solid $17.5M while Saturday saw an impressive 31% surge to $23M. Sunday is estimated to drop by 35% to $15M.
For October, the space disaster film beat the month’s previous record for best opener which was $52.6M set in 2011 by Paranormal Activity 3. The margin of victory may not have been too much, and the horror hit didn’t have premium ticket prices to boost grosses, however Gravity’s performance was amazing considering it was an original film. The other seven biggest October openings of all-time are either sequels or animated films and until now, no original live-action film had ever opened to north of $40M in either September or October.
According to studio research, Gravity skewed more towards the guys with 54% of the audience being male. Not surprising for a movie set almost entirely in space. A very high 59% were over the age of 35 and audience satisfaction was good as the pic earned an A- grade from CinemaScore.
Produced for roughly $100M, Gravity opened like a summer blockbuster. In fact, it debuted better than every live-action film released since June’s World War Z starring Clooney’s pal Brad Pitt. Plus the road ahead seems bright given the positive buzz and older audience. That means holdover competition it will give to upcoming mature-skewing adult dramas Captain Phillips and The Fifth Estate will be even stronger.
Gravity is just getting started with international territories but it’s already looking to become a fall behemoth with the majority of fans paying extra for the 3D and IMAX formats, just like their North American comrades. 27 markets opened this weekend delivering $27.4M with 3D accounting for an average of 70% of the gross. Russia led with $8.1M, 75% from 3D. The format’s share in Germany was a phenomenal 97% this weekend and 95% in Italy. Key markets like Brazil, Korea, Mexico, France, Japan, and the U.K. are still to come and the studio is still trying to confirm a release in China, the most lucrative overseas market for 3D and IMAX content.
Declining by a reasonable 37% from its opening weekend, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 settled for second with an estimated $21.5M for a ten-day tally of $60.6M. That made for a better hold compared to the summer’s pair of toon sequel juggernauts – Monsters University fell 45% and Despicable Me 2 dropped 47%. The first Cloudy dipped just 17% in its sophomore round, but was an original pic with less of a built-in audience. Produced for $78M, the second Cloudy looks to end its domestic run a few notches below the $124.9M of its predecessor.
Stumbling into third place was the critically-panned online gambling drama Runner Runner which debuted to just $7.6M, according to estimates, from 3,026 locations for a weak $2,512 average. Fox’s R-rated film starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck (in a lead role but taking the “and” credit) was rejected across the board by reviewers and opened below the $12.1M of the ‘N Sync star’s sci-fi pic In Time from October 2011. Runner cost $30M to produce and after its overseas bow a week ago, worldwide grosses stand at $31.1M.
A number of September leftovers followed with each collecting a modest amount. Former number one Prisoners dropped 48% to an estimated $5.7M for a $47.9M total for Warner Bros. Ron Howard’s awards hopeful Rush starring Chris Hemsworth stumbled 56% and took in an estimated $4.4M giving Universal a soft cume of only $18.1M.
Don Jon fell a sharp 52% in its sophomore round grossing an estimated $4.2M and just $16.1M after ten days for Relativity. Star Joseph Gordon-Levitt along with Hemsworth and Timberlake make up members of the new generation of male leads, but all have failed to attract notable sales with their recent films this fall.
Falling 54% to an estimated $4.1M was Fox Searchlight’s romantic comedy Baggage Claim which has taken in $15.2M to date. Horror hit Insidious Chapter 2 followed with an estimated $3.9M, down 41%, putting FilmDistrict at an impressive $74.8M.
The second Spanish-language hit of the fall entered the top ten as the Mexico City-set romantic comedy Pulling Strings debuted to an estimated $2.5M from 387 locations for a respectable $6,460 average. The PG-rated film earned a glowing A+ CinemaScore for Lionsgate and was produced by Latino studio Pantelion which saw its last film Instructions Not Included spend the past five weeks in the national top ten following its $7.8M opening weekend. Its current total is a stellar $41.3M.
Rounding out the top ten was the arthouse comedy Enough Said starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini which nearly doubled its run and collected an estimated $2.2M from 437 locations for a $4,920 average. Cume for Fox Searchlight is $5.4M.
Ahead of next weekend’s nationwide roll-out, Sony’s Somali pirate drama Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks got a round of 800 sneak previews on Saturday night to help bolster buzz for the tough-to-sell pic. The studio reported that the sneaks were 75% full on average and that many shows were sold out across all regions of the country. Research showed that the audience was split evenly between males and females and that the crowd was very mature with 71% being over 35. Garnering strong early reviews, Captain Phillips opens on Friday in more than 3,000 locations.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $111.6M which was down 14% from last year when Taken 2 debuted at number one with $49.5M; but up 39% from 2011 when Real Steel opened in the top spot with $27.3M.