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Why did Gravity earn $55 million in its opening weekend?
Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Sunday, October 6, 2013
Gravity opened in theaters this weekend, and the box office ticket sales for the movie are estimated to come in somewhere around $55-and-a-half million dollars. Alfonso Cuarón's latest work now has the distinction of being the highest-ever movie to open in the month of October. As well, at least 20% of the ticket sales for Gravity came from IMAX screenings, and 50% from 3D showings. In the year 2013, when box office returns for 3D films have lost much of their luster from the age of 2007's Avatar, Gravity is evidence that cinema-goers made the distinct choice to see the film in an enhanced screen format.
But why did they go to see Gravity? That's the question on the forefront of my mind. While it's lovely to see a strong science fact-based sci-fi action movie open so spectacularly outside of the summer or Christmas box office seasons, Gravity's exceptional debut still wasn't something to be expected. Going into this weekend, forecasting was predicting Gravity would open in the low $40 million dollar range -- and that was with a strong marketing campaign push by Warner Bros. Both of Gravity's stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, have their fanbases, but again, nothing that would suggest that they could open the movie any bigger than the $35 m - $40 m range.
No, there's something else at play with Gravity's good fortune, and figuring out what that is will be an important task for every movie studio's development executive in the coming weeks. I'm certain that the deconstruction of Gravity will give film execs an excuse to toss a few million dollars on some harder sc-fi spec screenplays, which I'm fine with. But even if a few of those SF specs have a high enough concept to hang their hat on, will they also include in their plotlines the same on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller aspect that Sandra Bullock's astronaut character went through? How much of the percentage of Gravity's success is a result of Cuarón's proclivity to shoot scenes which push the third-person perspective of filmmaking?
I'm not smart enough to suggest in this article that I have the true answer for this question. Success at the box office can be a game of roulette, even if you believe that the odds are in the favor of what appears to be a sure thing. Adding another $10 million to a movie's opening box office can come from good weather, good celebrity buzz, something in the news that rides the coattails of the movie's marketing or even the public's fickleness with what's happening in the world around them. Gravity has capitalized on the zeitgeist of October 2013, and it's likely to ride all the way to a $200 million dollar domestic end run and a couple of Oscar nominations for Clooney, Bullock and Cuarón. But will it have the ability to make Hollywood successfully reverse engineer its winning formula and produce more movies like it?
The answer to that question may lie with the movie that broke Sandra Bullock to the next level of her acting career, Speed, and what that film owed to its evolutionary predecessor, the original Die Hard.