Space drama ‘Gravity’ to rocket to No. 1 at box office

Sandra Bullock stars in "Gravity," which will probably be the No. 1 film at the box office this weekend.
(Warner Bros.)

Alfonso Cuaron’s 3-D sci-fi drama “Gravity” will probably have major pull with moviegoers at the box office this weekend.

The film starring Sandra Bullock as an astronaut stranded in space is expected to launch with a healthy $45 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The only other picture hitting theaters nationwide this weekend, the Justin Timberlake-Ben Affleck thriller “Runner Runner,” will probably open with a lackluster $10 million.

On Saturday, meanwhile, Sony Pictures will host advance screenings of its upcoming “Captain Phillips” in 800 locations. The studio is hoping that the previews will stoke interest in the Tom Hanks hijacking thriller, which goes wide next weekend.

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Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, “Gravity” has been a critical darling. But the film has had a long and troubled road to the big screen. It was initially set up at Universal Pictures before moving to Warner Bros. Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman were at various points set to star in the picture, which co-stars George Clooney, before Bullock signed on.

“Gravity” is so far generating the most interest among older moviegoers.

A source close to the production said the film, whose costs were shared by Warner Bros. and director Brett Ratner’s RatPac-Dune Entertainment, put the budget at $110 million. The studio declined to comment.

The movie is the first studio release from director Cuaron -- who co-wrote the space epic with his son, Jonas -- in seven years. The Mexican filmmaker’s last release, 2006’s “Children of Men,” earned three Oscar nominations but disappointed at the box office with just $35.6 million in domestic sales.

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“Runner Runner,” set in Costa Rica, stars Timberlake as a Princeton grad student who gets mixed up with a wealthy online gambler, played by Affleck. Financed by New Regency for $30 million, the 20th Century Fox release has earned largely negative reviews: On Thursday, it had notched only a 22% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Timberlake, whose fourth studio album was released Monday, has had mixed success as an actor. Though his supporting turn as tech billionaire Sean Parker in 2010’s “The Social Network” was praised by critics, the performer has yet to prove he’s a solid box office draw.

As a leading man, his biggest success to date came opposite Mila Kunis in the 2011 romantic comedy “Friends with Benefits,” which grossed a decent $55.8 million in the U.S. and Canada. Later that year, his sci-fi flick “In Time” bombed with domestic audiences, collecting just $37.5 million -- though it raked in an impressive $136.4 million overseas.

Opening in limited release, Roadside Attractions will launch its Christian family drama “Grace Unplugged” in about 500 theaters. The film follows a young evangelical singer (AJ Michalka) who comes to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a star and breaking free from her authoritarian background. To build awareness about the movie, Roadside has held more than 100 word-of-mouth screenings with church leaders and pastors.


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Alfonso Cuaron discusses ‘Gravity’ ahead of the film’s Friday release