Distributed by Warner Bros., which reportedly saved it from turnaround purgatory at Universal, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity has had what's officially the biggest ever opening weekend in October at the North American box office. As explained in my Gravity weekend box office post last night, Cuarón's $100 million-budgeted solar system thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney was expected to earn around $40 million by Sunday evening. Instead, if studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo are on target, Gravity opened this weekend, October 4-6, 2013, with a spectacular $55.6 million (including $1.4 million from late Thursday shows) at 3,575 venues – 3,150 of which showing the film in 3D and representing 80 percent of its gross. (Note: Not including marketing and distribution expenses, some sources estimate Gravity's budget to range between $80 million and $120 million.)
Early Friday / Saturday estimates indicated Gravity would reach $48 million this weekend; I believed it could go as high as $51 million. Anyhow, the film's eventual $55.6 million take – once again, if studio estimates are on target – turned out to be nearly 40 percent above original predictions. I should add that Gravity's current worldwide total is $83 million.
'Gravity' box office record? Not if you consider inflation
Gravity's estimated $55.6 million box office gross placed it ahead of previous North American October champ Paranormal Activity 3's $52.56 million. Now, if you live somewhere in the solar system where the pull of inflation is a reality – Planet Earth, for instance – that monetary force should always be taken into account when making comparisons from year to year. And once inflation is factored in, Gravity trails at least two movies: Scary Movie 3's (approximately) $65 million and Shark Tale's $63 million. (The Box Office Mojo chart makes the comparison to Paranormal Activity 3 a little confusing.)
Now, in terms of actual ticket sales – the true barometer of a film's popularity – Gravity would trail not only the aforementioned three movies, but also Sarah Michelle Gellar's The Grudge, Anthony Hopkins' Red Dragon, Johnny Knoxville's Jackass-3D, Liam Neeson's Taken 2, and Zac Efron's High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
Having said that, it's undeniable that Gravity has had the no. 1 domestic October opening weekend ever for an "original film," i.e., not a remake or a sequel – or, in this particular case, an adaptation.
'Gravity' opening weekend box office: Biggest Sandra Bullock and George Clooney debut ever?
Gravity has been touted as boasting the biggest opening weekend ever in the careers of both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. But once inflation is taken into account that isn't quite accurate as far as Clooney is concerned.
However impressive, especially considering its early fall release, Gravity's $55.6 million pales in comparison to the inflation-adjusted (approx.) $76 million earned by Batman and Robin, starring George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chris O'Donnell, back in 1996 ($42.87 million at the time). Adjusted for inflation, Gravity would also trail The Perfect Storm's $63 million. And in ticket sales, the latest Clooney movie would also lag behind Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve, ensemble pieces that also featured Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts.
As for Sandra Bullock, Gravity indeed boasts her biggest opening weekend to date, even adjusted for inflation, beating The Heat's $39.11 million earlier this year. In the coming months, expect Bullock to be named 2013's top female box office draw in the United States – perhaps the top box office draw in the country, period. In 2009, she was no. 1 thanks to The Blind Side and The Proposal (but not All About Steve).
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney: 'Gravity' two-person cast
With a screenplay by Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men's Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonás Cuarón, Gravity stars the aforementioned Oscar winners Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) and George Clooney (Syriana; Clooney was also one of the producers of Ben Affleck's Argo). Besides Bullock and Clooney, Gravity features only large chunks of space debris and a handful of disembodied voices, including that of Apollo 13's Ed Harris.
Alfonso Cuarón produced Gravity alongside David Heyman, best known as one of the producers of the hugely popular Harry Potter franchise. Cuarón and Heyman had previously collaborated on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), and should be joining forces once again on the Scottish-set A Boy and His Shoe.
Needless to say, Gravity – even forgetting inflation – isn't Cuarón's biggest opening-weekend movie. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban debuted with $93.68 million, or about $123 million in 2013 dollars.
Gravity's weekend box office actuals will come out on Monday.
Sandra Bullock Gravity movie photo: Warner Bros.