WINNERS OF THE WEEK: Older audiences. What goes up must come down, said a famous scientist (David Clayton-Thomas, perhaps), but Gravity is taking its sweet time plummeting to Earth. For the second straight week, the Sandra Bullock space adventure was the weekend's top film, grossing an additional estimated $44.3 million. That's a decline of just 21 percent from its debut last week, for an impressive 10-day total of $123.4 million.
Opening in second place was Tom Hanks' inspired-by-a-true-story thriller Captain Phillips, with an estimated $26.0 million. That's more than anyone predicted (guesses were that it would debut with around $20 million) and is an especially strong number given the competition from Gravity. Both movies are targeting the same grown-up audiences, carry similar Oscar buzz for their middle-aged stars, and are riding waves of positive reviews and strong word-of-mouth. (And in Gravity's case, that word-of-mouth is insisting that the film deserves to be seen in 3D and IMAX, surcharges be damned.) And star power counts for something, too. It's worth noting that, a couple years ago, when Hanks and Bullock failed to elevate Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to either box office or awards-season glory, there was a lot of hand-wringing about the waning appeal of these two former top box office draws. But put either actor in the right movie, and viewers will show up in droves, even the older viewers who are supposedly too cozy nesting in their living rooms to come to theaters anymore.
That said, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 remains canny counterprogramming. It's really the only child-friendly movie in the multiplex right now, and in its third weekend, it declined a modest 32 percent to $14.2 million in estimated sales, good for a third-place finish and a total to date of $78.0 million.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Charlie Sheen. Okay, it's not really fair to blame Mr. "Winning" for the unexpectedly enormous flop that is Machete Kills, but this is the third Charlie Sheen film this year that no one wanted to see (after A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III and Scary Movie 5). It probably didn't help that he billed himself under his more Latin-sounding real name, which may have been good for credibility in the world of the Machete movies, but it probably didn't help sell tickets – how many people know that Carlos Estevez is Sheen's birth name?
Of course, Robert Rodriguez's tongue-in-cheek sequel to a movie that was an in-joke in the first place boasted some other stunt casting – Mel Gibson, Disney ingénue-gone-bad Vanessa Hudgens and (in her first major film role) Lady Gaga – but none of that increased the ultraviolent franchise's cult following. In fact, the cult seems to have shrunk in the three years since Machete. That film debuted with $11.4 million in 2010; the new one barely mustered a third of that. Leading a three-way race for fourth, Machete Kills earned an estimated $3.797 million. Close behind were Runner Runner with an estimated $3.725 million and Prisoners with an estimated $3.665 million; those figures are close enough that any one of them could come out ahead when final figures are released after the weekend is over.
SUCH SWEET SORROW: Anticipation was high for Romeo and Juliet, the first major new role for Hailee Steinfeld since her stunning Oscar-nominated debut three years ago in True Grit. Alas, this umpteenth adaptation of Shakespeare's tragic romance fell flat, even by art-house standards. Opening on 461 screens, it mustered only an estimated $509,000, for a per-theater average of just $1,104. Even Machete Kills, at $1,496 per screen, did better than that. Maybe Romeo should have been played by Carlos Estevez.