With an aggressive marketing campaign and stellar reviews, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is poised to easily take first place this weekend. The real question at this point is how high it can go, though it's hard to imagine an original Fall release debuting above $40 million or so.
Opening at 3,575 locations, Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts who are stranded in orbit after their shuttle is destroyed. Advertisements for the movie put the astronauts in all kinds of precarious situations, which has nicely showcased the movie's stunning visuals and intense, high-stakes thrills. As of late, commercials have also emphasized the movie's reviews, which are nothing short of fantastic (it currently has a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
If there's any complaint to be made about the marketing, it's that the characters have been a bit dwarfed by their environment—if their names weren't in the previews, it may be hard to tell that Bullock and Clooney are in those spacesuits.
More importantly, Warner Bros. has been positioning Gravity as a movie event that needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible in 3D. This strategy seems to be working out: Fandango reported this morning that a whopping 91 percent of Gravity's advanced ticket sales are for 3D shows, which is an all-time record for them (Avatar came in at 90 percent). While 3D has had a rough year so far, this data suggests that audiences are willing to pay the premium and strap on those annoying glasses if it seems like those inconveniences will ultimately be a positive.
While this may sound odd, a good comparison for Gravity may be fellow Warner Bros. release Pacific Rim. Both movies are passion projects from talented Mexican directors who are favorites within the film community, but who aren't exactly household names yet. Also, both are effects-heavy sci-fi movies with a strong marketing push towards IMAX 3D.
Part of the reason Pacific Rim only opened to $37.2 million, though, was that women largely stayed away—only 39 percent of its opening weekend audience was female. To attempt to avoid that with Gravity, Sandra Bullock has been working overtime getting the word out about the movie. Bullock is undeniably a draw among women—in the past five years, The Proposal, The Blind Side and The Heat all opened above $33 million and closed above $158 million.
Right now, all signs point to Gravity opening to at least $35 million, if not higher. Before assuming that it's going to open at Avatar levels, though, it's important to keep in mind that the Fall (September and October) has historically had a pretty low ceiling for opening weekends. Only nine Fall releases have ever opened over $40 million, and none of those are original live-action movies; Gravity could be the first to breach this barrier, but it probably won't go much higher. Gravity is also opening in at least 30 foreign markets, including Australia, Germany, India, Italy, Russia and Spain. The movie has all the ingredients of a foreign hit: linear/visual storytelling, 3D/IMAX pricing and a few recognizable, well-liked stars. Matching Life of Pi's $484 million overseas haul would be shocking, though getting above $300 million seems within reach.
Opening at 3,024 locations, Runner Runner features two of the biggest names in show business right now—Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck—facing off against each other. Timberlake is red-hot thanks to his music career, while Affleck is coming off Oscar-winning Argo and is about to take over as Batman in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel sequel.
Unfortunately, star power only goes so far, and Runner Runner doesn't seem to offer much otherwise. It also doesn't help that it's targeting the same adult audience that's been wooed more effectively by Gravity (and also next week's Captain Phillips, which will sneak at 800 locations on Saturday). Fox is expecting $10 to $12 million, which will be a bit of a disappointment considering the talent involved.
There are also a handful of movies opening in moderate release this weekend. Playing at 511 theaters, Grace Unplugged is attempting to connect with both Christian audiences and country music fans. Christian movies have a pretty wide opening weekend range, though this is a wide-enough release that $1 million seems like a guarantee.
At 387 theaters, Pulling Strings is targeting Hispanic audience in much the same way that fellow Lionsgate release Instructions Not Included did last month. That had Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez and a strong family story, though, and it would be incorrect to expect Pulling Strings to come close to that movie's $7.8 million start. Instead, look for an opening in line with past Lionsgate/Pantelion movies like Girl in Progress ($1.4 million) and From Prada to Nada ($1.12 million).
Playing in 217 theaters, Parkland is a true story set at the hospital that President John F. Kennedy is brought to after being shot in 1963. The movie has received a bit of a marketing push, and does have a ton of stars including Zac Efron and Paul Giamatti. Still, it's received generally negative reviews, and an opening above $1 million would be surprising. Metallica Through the Never expands nationwide to around 650 theaters this weekend. Through six days in 305 IMAX locations, the movie has earned a decent $1.9 million; unfortunately, it's losing all of those screens to Gravity, and it's unlikely that it matches its $1.58 million opening. Forecast (Oct. 4-6) 1. Gravity - $41.2 million 2. Cloudy 2 - $21.2 million (-38%) 3. Runner Runner - $11.8 million 4. Rush - $6.7 million (-33%) 5. Prisoners - $5.8 million (-47%) Bar for Success With 3D/IMAX pricing and a major marketing push, Gravity needs to open to at least $30 million this weekend. Meanwhile, Runner Runner would be in good shape anywhere over $15 million.