With a decent September in the rearview mirror, the domestic box office is poised for an above-average October thanks to movies like Gravity, Captain Phillips and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The current October record of $693.4 million was set in 2009; while this lineup may not be able to match that, it's certainly going to get close. October 4
October kicks off with what is arguably its most-anticipated movie: after completing principal photography over two years ago, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity finally hits theaters this weekend. Set in Earth's orbit, the movie features Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts struggling to survive after they're shuttle is destroyed. While this premise has generated some cynicism—a common refrain is that it's too similar Cast Away or Open Water—that's been largely alleviated by strong marketing and stellar early reviews. Gravity's box office prospects are also aided by the fact that many people will seek it out in premium-priced 3D or IMAX 3D, which has been effectively sold as the way to see this movie.
With a blockbuster-level marketing campaign and a bevy of awards nominations on the way, it's hard to imagine Gravity finishing with less than $100 million at the domestic box office. It's going to be even bigger overseas: survival stories are universal, as is the fascination with space travel (not to mention the added appeal of 3D and IMAX in many markets). While it may not match Life of Pi's $484 million, a $300 million haul doesn't seem out of the question. Runner Runner also opens on the first weekend of October, though it's unlikely to be much competition for Gravity. Stars Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck have both been in the headlines a lot lately—Timberlake for his music, and Affleck for his work on Best Picture winner Argo (and also for some upcoming Zack Snyder superhero movie). Unfortunately, star power doesn't mean all that much if the movie doesn't look appealing. While Runner Runner has some nice thriller elements to it, it all feels very "been there, done that." With tough competition from Gravity, it's unlikely that Runner Runner breaks out.
Finally, 3D concert/narrative hybrid Metallica Through the Never expands nationwide after earning $1.58 million in 305 IMAX locations last weekend. Unfortunately, it's losing its IMAX screens to Gravity, and the most hardcore Metallica fans have probably already checked it out. Ultimately, it would be surprising if this earned over $10 million at the domestic box office. October 11
On the second weekend of October, Captain Phillips faces off against Machete Kills. While both are being marketed pretty hard, the Tom Hanks vehicle has much more potential. Captain Phillips tells the true story of a shipping vessel captain (played by Hanks) who deals with Somali pirates after they take his ship hostage. Sony has been aggressively marketing the movie with advertisements that clearly outline the premise while ramping up the tension to an unbearable level. All of this calls to mind last October's Argo, which also centered around a true-story hostage situation in the Middle East. An opening in line with Argo ($19.5 million) or Sony's own Zero Dark Thirty ($24.4 million) seems likely—from there, it will be up to word-of-mouth and awards notices to drive Captain Phillips to hit territory. Machete Kills is the sequel to 2010's Machete, which opened to $14.1 million over Labor Day weekend before stalling out at just $26.6 million total. For this installment, director Robert Rodriguez has gone with a ton of stunt casting, including Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson and Carlos Estevez (aka Charlie Sheen). Whatever benefit that provides is likely offset by the fact that this movie looks noticeably cheaper, and also the fact that the grindhouse in-joke is probably played out by now. Ultimately, it would be surprising if Machete Kills out-grossed the first Machete. October 18
The third weekend of October is the only one with three major nationwide releases, and it's likely that horror remake Carrie is going to come out on top. So far this year, five horror movies have earned over $54 million—in comparison, the highest-grossing horror movie last year was Paranormal Activity 4 with just $53.9 million. One of those movies was the gory Evil Dead remake, which was also released by Sony. While that movie went overboard to reach out to fans of the original, though, Carrie has done little to woo cynics. Still, with Paranormal Activity 5 pushed to next year, Carrie will be the only horror movie playing in theaters around Halloween, which almost guarantees a total north of $50 million. Escape Plan features 80s action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger plotting to break out of the world's most secure prison. While these two are extremely recognizable—and found box office success in the two Expendables movies—they aren't guarantees at the box office. Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand and Stallone's Bullet to the Head failed to reach beyond the actors' core fans, and as a result combined for just $21.5 million. With a clearer premise, Escape Plan could do a bit better, though there really doesn't seem to be much here for general audiences to latch on to. The Fifth Estate tells the true story of Wikileaks and its controversial founder Julian Assange, portrayed here by Benedict Cumberbatch. The general public seems split on Assange, and the movie does as well: marketing seems to portray him as equal parts hero and villain. Unfortunately, that kind of ambiguity is tough to sell, as audiences prefer their lead characters to be a bit more straightforward (think Captain Phillips). The exception, of course, is The Social Network, which The Fifth Estate is modeled after in many ways. Unfortunately, The Social Network received fantastic reviews and tons of awards acclaim, whereas The Fifth Estate was generally maligned following its Toronto Film Festival debut. With direct competition from Captain Phillips and Gravity, it's unlikely that The Fifth Estate does too much business.
Two major awards contenders open in limited release this weekend as well. Currently hyped as the Best Picture frontrunner, Twelve Years a Slave is going to need to build on strong reviews and word-of-mouth to overcome the constraints inherent in its brutal depiction of slavery (as opposed to the action comedy that was Django Unchained). With the right rollout, though, this movie will definitely find an audience. All Is Lost is even less commercially viable. The acclaimed survival movie stars Robert Redford as a man lost at sea; word is that he's the only character, and that he speaks very little dialogue, which makes this a very tough sell. It's likely going to be modest earner, though a total north of $10 million seems well within reach. October 25 Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa faces off against star-studded thriller The Counselor on the final weekend of October. Bad Grandpa is a mockumentary-style movie starring Johnny Knoxville as the grandpa character that would pop up in vignettes throughout the Jackass series. For Bad Grandpa, Knoxville and his "grandson" travel around the country behaving poorly and punking real people, all within a very loose story framework. This is similar to Sacha Baron Cohen's approach to Borat, which earned over $128 million.
Of course, Bad Grandpa is no Borat. At the same time, Paramount has put together some very funny ads, and it faces zero comedy competition on opening weekend. There's no way Bad Grandpa matches Jackass 3-D's $117.2 million total, though something north of $50 million is very doable for this inexpensive spin-off. The Counselor is being sold almost entirely on its stars both in front of and behind the camera: on-screen talent include Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, and they're being directed by Ridley Scott from a script by Cormac McCarthy (author of No Country for Old Men). Unfortunately, the story itself doesn't appear to be all that original—basically, Fassbender's character gets involved with some bad people—and Scott seems to be working on a bland visual palette that's inferior to the Coen Bros. work in No Country. The Counselor could be saved by great reviews, though it would still be surprising if this became a big hit in the U.S.