Box Office: ‘Gravity’ breaks October records with phenomenal $55.5 million

Even with inflated 3D and IMAX ticket prices, the feat Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” achieved this weekend cannot be diminished. The expected best picture nominee grossed $17.5 million on Friday, but on Saturday it jumped to a higher than foreseen $23 million. That has earned the Warner Bros. release a weekend estimate of $55.5 million, a record opening for the month of October.

Interest in “Gravity” was strong before release with both tracking services predicting a debut in the $35-39 million range. Other studios were confidently betting a $40 million opening, but $50 million plus?  That was a surprise. Unlike a horror film such as previous October record holder “Paranormal Activity 3” or some genre pictures (even superhero tentpoles) whose interest is front loaded by hardcore fans,  the Friday to Saturday jump at this level proves there is very strong word of mouth for the picture.  It also didn’t hurt that “Gravity” has been almost universally praised by critics.  It currently has a 96 out of 100 score on Metacritic and 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  How big the buzz grows is still unclear.  Unlike many fall releases, the industry will be watching the weekday numbers to see just how long it will take for “Gravity” to fall back to earth.

As for the weekend’s other players, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” dropped to no. 2 with another $21.5 million and $60.5 million to date. The family friendly flick actually weathered the storm caused by “Gravity” quite well and is right on track with the performance of the original “Cloudy” back in 2009.  Based on the lack of family competition for the next month or so it has an excellent shot at hitting $110 million plus domestic.

The third slot when to the already forgettable Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck thriller “Runner Runner.”  Whether 20th Century Fox actually thought this was a good date to open the critically panned film (late August might have worked better) or hoped it would get lost opposite “Gravity” is up for debate. In either case, the $7.6 million debut is significantly below the pre-release polling estimate of $11-12 million.  The studio and financier New Regency will have to hope, like Timberlake’s global hit “In Time,” it plays much better overseas.  
Arriving in fourth is another Warner Bros. release, “Prisoners.”  The festival favorite has actually slowed down a tad more than anticipated taking in another $5.7 million for $47.8 million to date. A final tally of $70 million or so looks about right.

Another well reviewed thriller, Ron Howard’s “Rush,” dropped to fifth with a $4.4 million weekend and $18 million so far. Universal Pictures and the international financiers behind “Rush” should expect the picture to top out at $30 million at best.

Making a surprise debut in the top 10 was the Spanish and English language romantic comedy “Pulling Strings” with $2.7 million in just 400 theaters for a $6,460 per screen average (second highest in the top 10 after “Gravity”).  “Strings” is the second release from Pantelion, a join venture of Lionsgate and Televisia to crack the top 10. The first was “Instructions Not Included” which grossed $38 million, setting a Spanish language record, last month.

Next Friday’s new releases include “Captain Phillips,” “Machete Kills” and a new version of “Romeo and Juliet” which is debuting in just 450 theaters.

Box office actuals are release on Monday.