“Gravity” took flight at light speed this weekend, soaring past industry expectations as it rocketed to No. 1 at the box office.
Alfonso Cuarón’s 3-D space drama launched with a robust $55.6 million, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys indicated that the film would make no more than $45 million in its opening weekend. Meanwhile, “Runner Runner,” the only other film that debuted nationwide this weekend, fell short of even the lowest projections with a disappointing $7.6-million start.
The opening weekend tally for “Gravity” — which includes the $1.4 million the picture grossed Thursday evening — marks the biggest October debut ever. Previously, 2011’s “Paranormal Activity 3" held that record with its $52.6-million opening.
“Gravity” was so successful largely because of how well it did in 3-D, which accounted for roughly 80% of weekend business. To put that percentage in perspective, James Cameron’s “Avatar” — another movie in which the technology was highly touted — did 72% of its opening weekend business in 3-D.
That the film sold so many 3-D tickets is particularly surprising given how resistant moviegoers have been to the format this year. This past summer, it hit an all-time low when only 25% of the opening weekend crowd who went to see the family film “Turbo” were willing to pay to see the movie in 3-D.
“This gives new hope to exhibitors who have been getting nervous about 3-D,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. “But you’ve got to be careful about which movies you release in the format. One that lends itself to the format like this doesn’t come along often, but when it does, it becomes a cultural phenomenon.”
Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, “Gravity” follows two astronauts trying to navigate their way back to Earth following the destruction of their space shuttle. The film has been beloved by critics, notching a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And those who saw the film this weekend -- 59% of whom were over the age of 35 — enjoyed it too, assigning the movie an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Bullock, 49, is having a strong year at the box office. While “Gravity” marks the biggest opening in the star’s career, she also appeared in the hit comedy “The Heat” over the summer. Initially, “Gravity” was set to star Angelina Jolie and then Natalie Portman before the part was offered to Bullock.
“Gravity” was co-financed by Warner Bros. and Brett Ratner’s RatPac-Dune Entertainment for $110 million, per a source close to the production. The studio declined to comment on the film’s budget.
Overseas, the movie debuted in 27 countries and collected $27.4 million — about 70% of which came from 3-D sales. The picture did well in Germany and Australia but fared best in Russia, where it collected $8.1 million. The film will open in Brazil, South Korea and Mexico later this month.
“Runner Runner” cost far less to produce, but the film’s poor start still gives it little chance at financial success. Financed by New Regency for $30 million and released by 20th Century Fox, the movie failed to connect with a younger audience this weekend. Roughly 70% of the film’s audience was over the age of 25, and moviegoers didn’t like the film, giving it an average grade of C.
Reviewers also responded negatively to the picture about a grad student (Justin Timberlake) who travels to Costa Rica to meet up with a seedy online gambling magnate (Ben Affleck). While Timberlake has done well in the music world as of late, as an actor he has struggled to find his footing. Since his supporting turn in 2011’s raunchy comedy “Bad Teacher,” every film he has appeared in has grossed less than its predecessor.