Sci-fi has been redeemed this morning. In a year that produced genre disappointments like After Earth and Oblivion, original sci-fi has its first unqualified hit of 2013 with Gravity. The thriller soared to $55.5 million on its first weekend, or about $15 million more than even its most optimistic boosters put the film one week ago. More importantly, Gravity set a new record for October by topping Paranormal Activity 3’s $52.5 million debut.
|2.||Cloudy with a Chance 2||$21,500,000||$61.5|
|8.||Insidious Chapter 2||$3,876,000||$74.7|
After getting excited over new September records for Insidious Chapter 2 and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 that never materialized, this morning’s Gravity win is especially sweet. The Warner Bros. feature was originally expected to come in between $35 and $40 million – or about on par with last summer’s Pacific Rim. Instead, Gravity soared past all of its 2013 sci-fi compatriots with over $55 million.
Because 2013 has proved such a disappointment for original sci-fi, the facts that augured in favor of today’s big Gravity launch were originally overlooked. The film has scored some of the best reviews of the year for a wide release with 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. But if audiences always applied Cinemath logic, Ron Howard’s Rush (88%) would have broken out bigger last weekend. The reviews certainly helped, but what really turned the tide for Gravity was its 3D effects.
While 3D is certainly still an important part of the film industry, the format is a bit past its prime. That last weekend’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 came in lower than expected is just one example of the diminishing power of 3D effects to significantly shape box office results. In fact, many studios have stopped emphasizing 3D theatre counts. Three years ago, studios routinely included the percentage of 3D screens for any given release in their weekly reports. Today, that’s much more unusual. Except for Gravity.
Warner Bros. promoted Gravity as a visual event – the kind of film best appreciated in 3D or IMAX 3D. Audiences clearly got the message. 3D screens accounted for over 85% of Gravity’s 3,575 locations and brought in an impressive 80% of the film’s overall estimate. 343 IMAX 3D dates accounted for another 20% of the film’s opening, which means that a big majority of audiences paid a higher price for their Gravity tickets this weekend. That’s how records get broken.
Big as it is, Gravity is not the biggest launch of Alfonso Cuaron’s career. The director’s time at the helm of the Harry Potter series saw Prisoner of Azkaban open to over $93 million back in 2004. Cuaron’s latest release has, however, supplied new career highs for its stars. George Clooney’s previous best was the $42.8 million opening of Batman and Robin back in 1997. Adjusted for inflation, B & R still wins with over $60 million, but I doubt Clooney will argue that particular case. Sandra Bullock’s all-time best debut of $39.1 million came earlier this year with The Heat, so no adjustments are needed.
Would that I could end this box office report on a high note but, alas, the fate of Runner Runner must be mentioned. If Gravity rates as one of the year’s best-reviewed films, Runner Runner is clearly one of its worst at just 8% on RT. For leading man Ben Affleck, that’s just two points higher than Gigli. Despite its wide release, Runner Runner was not expected to be a major player – $13 million was the highest projection I saw for this weekend’s opening. Instead, the R-rated drama took in just $7.6 million from its 3,026 locations. Luckily, Runner Runner didn’t cost much at $30 million so, with decent international and secondary-market sales, Fox could still spin this into a positive… one day.
Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said expanded to 437 locations on Friday. On most other weeks, an estimate of $2.1 million would not be good enough to earn the comedy a spot in the top ten but, thanks to the disproportionate success of Gravity, smaller films had a bigger window into this weekend’s chart. The same was true for today’s number nine film: Pulling Strings. Following August’s break-out hit Instructions Not Included, distributor Lionsgate followed with another Spanish-language comedy this week. Pulling Strings did not prove as potent as its predecessor; though the film’s $2.5 million from 347 locations would qualify as impressive had Instructions not tripled that number just a few weeks back.
Despite the best efforts of Gravity, the overall box office for this first frame of October was down by approximately 13% from 2012. With Captain Phillips expected to open in the $20 million range next weekend, it looks like Gravity may be able to claim a second week on top. It is also likely that Machete Kills will be next week’s Runner Runner… just with better reviews.