Is the glass half empty or half full? This weekend give evidence for both. Two well-reviewed, high-quality films -- "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips" -- lead the Top 10 this weekend with impressive numbers. The studios, building on such late 2012 successes as "Argo," "Lincoln" and "The Life of Pi," are continuing to push a small number of awards-targeted quality projects at low-risk, non-tentpole budgets.
The bad news is that business is really, really bad. Only three films did solid business, the top two and in its third go-round, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2." The top 10 grossed $105 million, down 10% from last year, as the annual comparison returns are close to even with 2012. No other film took in more than $4 million for the weekend. Much of the mass-market audience, including the usually reliable teen/early 20s audience, has fallen sharply with fewer films aimed directly at them. "Carrie" next weekend will show whether they are inclined to show up again.
This weekend a smaller national release might have sneaked into the top 10. But last weekend's placer "Pulling Strings" (Lionsgate) from Mexico, Fox Searchlight's "Enough Said," and new films "Romeo and Juliet" (Relativity) and "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" (Lionsgate) all fell short in varying degrees of taking advantage of that opportunity. (Further discussion in Arthouse Audit.)
1. Gravity (Warner Bros.) Week 2 - Last weekend #1
$44,265,000 (-21%) in 3,660 theaters (+85); PSA (per screen average): $12,094; Cumulative: $123,400,000
A spectacular second weekend hold for Alfonso Cuaron's space thriller, falling only 21 %, about as much as some of the best adult-oriented wide release second weeks that grossed less than half on opening. Indeed, among films that opened at over $55 million, it is second only to "The Incredibles" in terms of small decline.
Clearly the film expanded its audience in its second weekend beyond the adult/review-oriented initial interest ticket buyers, enhanced by 3-D and IMAX surcharges (again 20% of the gross came from the latter, a huge share) and already getting reports of repeat viewing, this gross is actually more significant than its strong first week result. It shows that the film is becoming an event right at the moment when in particular Academy members are beginning to focus on their upcoming choices (and encouraging many to see it now rather than wait for 2-D screeners). And a fall this small suggests that it will continue to perform at $10 million-plus per weekend possibly going through the Thanksgiving holiday.
What comes next: This is heading for a likely $250 million + domestic take, with a chance to hit $300 million or better. "Catching Fire" likely tops it among fall releases, but as far as the industry in concerned, this is the big news of the season. The combination of artistic and commercial success at this level (as 3-D regains some luster after a weak year) is going to get the film much attention ahead at multiple levels.
2. Captain Phillips (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 83
$26,000,000 in 3,020 theaters; PSA: $8,609; Cumulative: $26,000,000
Despite the strong competition from "Gravity" for adult audiences, Paul Greengrass' modern day pirate story managed to outpace other recent October high-end entries like "Argo" (which grossed just under $20 million its first weekend last year) to achieve a strong initial gross. Coming in with a strong A Cinemascore, having a strong potential awards trajectory ahead and most importantly having established itself initially in the marketplace, this looks like a strong film from recently struggling Sony Pictures. It has a strong chance to at least quadruple its initial take, which would give it over $100 million domestic total ("Zero Dark 30" fell just short of that marker) before adding a likely substantial foreign take. With a $55 million production budget, this is a strong performer for the studio. The risky decision to sneak the picture last weekend clearly paid off.
"Captain Phillips" boasts a strong pedigree. Director Greengrass has two of the "Bourne" series films under his belt (combined gross over $400 million), although his two other studio films "United 93" and "The Green Zone" only made it into the $30-35 million range. All four were for Universal (the studio let "Gravity" go). The producing team included Scott Rudin, always involved with top-end films, and joined here by his "The Social Network" partners Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti. The script was from Billy Ray, who after his directing efforts "Shattered Glass" and "Breach" has followed up with only writing credits, previously including "Flight Plan" and "Hunger Games."
But the big comeback name (at least to a degree) is Tom Hanks, who hasn't had a breakout live-action hit since "Angels and Demons" in 2009, with "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "Larry Crowne" and "Cloud Atlas" all doing no better than somewhere around $30 million. As the sole big name in the film, his presence seems to have elevated interest along with strong reviews (none of those earlier lower grossing films had similar critical support). Though he has been a dominant performer for three decades, this result and its likely additional success is a big story.
The audience skewed significantly older (62% over 35) meaning, as was true with "Gravity" initially, that there is room for growth among normally prime younger moviegoers. And with adult audiences often being more responsive to word of mouth, this has a real chance of sustaining a strong performance for some time to come.