WINNER OF THE WEEK: Gravity. The Warner Bros. space opera stunned with an opening estimated at $55.6 million, well above predictions of $35 to $42 million. That $55.5 million sets all kinds of records. It's the biggest October opening ever (beating the $52.6 million earned by Paranormal Activity 3 in 2011) and the biggest opening ever for stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. (It's also the biggest non-Harry Potter opening for director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron.) The movie, which demands to be seen in 3D and on the biggest possible screen, earned $11.2 million of its take from IMAX venues, also an October record. Not only did IMAX revenues make up 20 percent of Gravity's total, but 3D tickets made up a full 80 percent. (Usually, glasses rentals account for just 30 to 50 percent.) So not only did Gravity elevate the box office, but it proved that 3D isn't necessarily a dying fad but rather an enhancement viewers will cough up extra dollars for, given the right movie.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Runner Runner. Justin Timberlake may be the world's biggest pop star, and Ben Affleck may be an Oscar darling, but neither is a proven box office draw. Their online poker drama had been predicted to earn as much as $15 million, but it made only half that, debuting in third place with an estimated $7.6 million. It doesn't help that, as a subject, poker seldom draws a full house at the movies. The movie had poor word-of-mouth (expressed as a C grade from CinemaScore), weak reviews, and strong competition, not just from Gravity, but from a nationwide Saturday night sneak of next weekend's docudrama, Captain Phillips. (Let's see, Tom Hanks and Somali pirates, or JT and Internet pirates. . . . Which would you choose?) At least the film can take consolation in its overseas winnings, which brings the movie's worldwide gross to $31 million.
Also flailing this week were holdovers Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Prisoners, and Rush. All dropped steeply from last weekend's business. Cloudy 2, which topped the chart a week ago, earned another estimated $21.5 million this weekend for a second-place finish and a two-weekend total of $60.6 million. In fourth place, Prisoners lost about half its business in its third week, coming in at an estimated $5.7 million, for a three-weekend total of $47.9 million. And in fifth place, three-week-old Rush already seems to be running low on gas. Down 56 percent from a week ago, it earned an estimated $4.4 million, for a three-week total of just $18.1 million.
'STRINGS' ALONG: Just like last month's Instructions Not Included, fellow Lionsgate/Pantelion release Pulling Strings came out of nowhere and captured a Latin audience Hollywood barely knows exists. Like Instructions, it's a bilingual romantic comedy made in Mexico but clearly seeking a crossover audience north of the border. Opening on just 387 screens this weekend, it averaged an estimated $6,460 per screen, for a cumulative $2.5 million and a debut in the top 10, in ninth place.
Other indies debuting strongly included Christian drama Grace Unplugged, opening at Number 15 with an estimated $1.0 million from 511 screens. Basketball documentary Linsanity opened with an estimated $103,000 on just nine screens, for a strong per-screen average of $11,444. JFK assassination drama Parkland actually had a higher total estimated gross ($335,000), but that was spread out over 257 venues, so its per-screen average of just $1,304 doesn't bode well for the movie's continued success. And Adam Scott comedy A.C.O.D. grossed just $20,000, but that's on only three screens, and a per-screen average of $6,667 is a good sign.