Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s ‘Gravity’ Rocketing Toward October Box Office Record

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3D drives $17.5M opening day and has space epic on $50M pace. Justin Timberlake-Ben Affleck thriller “Runner Runner” stumbling

Fueled by rave reviews and boosted by 3D and Imax premium pricing, the George Clooney-Sandra Bullock space epic “Gravity” launched Friday with $17.5 million and is on pace for a record-breaking opening weekend of around $50 million.

That would be about $10 million more than analysts had projected for director Alfonso Cuaron’s inventive thriller, and make it the biggest non-sequel debut ever in October. The biggest opener ever in October, typically a slow month at the box office, is the $52 million scared up by “Paranormal 3″ 2011.

Also read: How ‘Gravity’ Revolutionized Visual Effects and Blasted Sandra Bullock Into Space

Warner Bros.’ PG-13-rated “Gravity” is getting a major lift from the typically $3-$4 price add-ons at the 3,150 theaters that are showing in it in 3D (out of 3,575 total). The 323 Imax screens provided $3.6 million, an average of $11,600 each and a whopping 21 percent of the Friday grosses.  The film’s 91-minute running time, which allows for more screenings, isn’t hurting, either.

The awards contender will get a boost from buzz, as well. First-night moviegoers liked it as much as the critics, who have it at 98 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, and gave it an “A-” CinemaScore.

The “Gravity” debut will be the best ever for the film’s two stars, topping the $39 million Bullock’s “The Heat” debuted with this summer and the $42 million that Clooney’s “Batman and Robin’ opened to way back in 1997.

The Friday grosses include $1.4 million from 10 p.m. Thursday showings.

The $80 million space saga was overwhelming the weekend’s other wide opener, New Regency’s Justin Timberlake-Ben Affleck thriller “Runner Runner,” which took in $2.7 million Friday.

That translates to an $8 million three-day total, below expectations that were low to begin with. Word of mouth isn’t going to help, since it received a “C” CinemaScore from first-night audiences at the 3,024 theaters where distributor Fox had it booked.

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It was running way behind last weekend’s No. 1 movie, Sony’s animated family film “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” which brought in $4.7 million Friday and is heading for a $21 million second weekend. That’s a roughly 49 percent drop, and keeps it on track with the original “Cloudy,” which brought in $125 million domestically.

Warner Bros. “Prisoners’ was fourth after taking in $4.7 million Friday and the Hugh Jackman-Jake Gyllenhaal revenge saga is on course for a $5.7 million third week.

Fox Searchlight’s comedy “Baggage Claim,” Universal’s Ron Howard-directed auto racing saga “Rush” and Relativity’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt sex comedy ‘Don Jon” were battling for fifth. All three were films were looking at three-day totals between $4 million and $5 million.

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“Insidious Chapter 2″ was next, and the FilmDistrict horror thriller was on a $3.7 million pace in its fourth week.

The partly Spanish-language “Pulling Strings,” from Lionsgate’s Pantelion Entertainment, opened to $759,000 from 387 theaters and is looking at $2.6 million for the weekend.

Pantelion is the company behind “Instructions Not Included,” the comedy that last month became the highest-grossing Spanish-language movie ever in the United States.

Fox Searchlight’s romantic comedy “Enough Said,” one of the final films of the late James Gandolfini, expanded by 200 theaters and brought in $597,000 from 437 locations. Julia Louis-Dreyfus co-stars.