The schizophrenic nature of the film production - part art, part mass entertainment - is in view this weekend as "Gravity," the most acclaimed film of 2013 so far opened to a better than expected $17,525,000 opening day gross (including late Thursday night shows). This placed it far above the first days for such recent awards contenders released similarly wide in October - "Argo," "The Social Network," "The Departed" - or "Lincoln" its first wide release last November.
This is an excellent opening for "Gravity," assuming that this holds as well or better as those films (all went on the total gross multiple four times or better their opening weekends, far above the norm for most films). "Gravity" looks to end up somewhere in the $45-50 million range for the full weekend, and a $150-200 domestic gross would be terrific for Warner Bros before adding its likely similar or better international take.
But meantime, the total gross for the top 10 yesterday - somewhere around $32 million - is down 20% from last year. Why? For starters. the #1 film for that weekend was "Taken 2," which grossed $18,538,000 its first day, better than "Gravity," with no similar critical heft or awards predictions. And it did it without the huge boost that came from 3D and some IMAX surcharges, which look to have a near-record high percentage of viewing for "Gravity." "Taken 2" easily sold more than two million tickets its first day,"Gravity" fewer than 1.5 million despite all the attention and excitement surrounding its release.
So for starters, the top film of the day was below last year's. The bulk of the falloff though comes from the rest of the top 10. #2 "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" grossed $4.7 million, $1.7 million less than "Hotel Transylvania" (also Sony, also its second week) did. New opener "Runner Runner" (20th Century-Fox), a gambling caper starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, took in only $2,750,000, and still made #3 for the day at that weak level.
Then even more discouraging, two films appealing to adults more - and thus typically holding on better than more mass-audience fare - took big drops. Warner Bros.' "Prisoners" grossed $1,730,000 in its third Friday dropping another 49% for #4, while Universal's "Rush" dropped more than 60% for its second Friday, $1.4 million for #6. #5 was Relativity's "Don Juan" at $1,420,000 (down 50%). All this suggests that whatever adult business flocked to "Gravity" (whose appeal spread beyond just that audience) came at the expense of other review-oriented films.
The weak overall business allowed Fox Searchlight's ongoing success "Enough Said" to make #9 for the day, with $595,000 in only 437 theaters. But even that is not all good news. Last Friday grossed nearly as much in 227 theaters, a bit more than half as many, with the per screen average down a little less than half from last week.
What seems to be lacking among all the quality is new product for the most loyal moviegoers, particularly mid-teen to late 20-somethings who don't follow reviews and flock to horror and action films year round. A 20% drop, if the trend continues in weeks ahead, will push 2013 below 2012 after a decent summer that brought box office totals up to parity to last year.