Why ‘Gravity’ Should Stay in Box-Office Orbit Through the Oscars

Analysis: Great reviews and exit polling, a mature skew and the “must-see-in-3D” factor suggest a months-long run

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 8:50 PM

The spectacular 3D and Imax box-office numbers put up by “Gravity” may have obscured another telling number from its stunning $55 million debut over the weekend: nearly 60 percent of its audience was over 35.

If this were a superhero saga, an audience that skewed that old would be a disaster. But for an Oscar hopeful like Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” that touch of grey is exactly what Warner Bros. wanted to see. Combined with rave reviews from critics and “A-” CinemaScore, it means the Sandra Bullock-George Clooney space saga is very likely to be orbiting multiplexes for months – and likely through the March 2 Academy Awards.

Its trajectory could resemble that of Ang Lee’s “The Life of Pi,” another Oscar contender that drew raves for stunning 3D visual effects, but there are significant differences. Fox opened “Pi” to $22 million  just prior to Thanksgiving last year. It played and even picked up steam through the awards season, and wound up with $125 million domestically and a whopping $484 million overseas for a $609 million worldwide total before Lee won the Best Director Oscar.

Also read: Did ‘Gravity’ Really End as It Seemed? An Alternate Theory (Spoilers)

“Gravity” won’t match the overseas numbers of “Pi,” which was built to play abroad — and in Asia in particular. But it should do even better in the U.S.

“‘Gravity’ opened with such massive numbers, as well as critical acclaim, that it could easily pull in $175 millon by the end of its domestic box office journey,” Exhbitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst told TheWrap on Monday. “It will certainly still be a factor when the holiday movie season unspools, and if it circles the awards circuit, as expected, it will play well into 2014.”

There are other indicators that point to a long run for “Gravity” —  beyond the simple fact that it’s the rare film that begs to be seen theaters — and in 3D.

Also read: Can ‘Gravity’ Splashdown on Stage at the Oscars?

>> Attendance spiked 32 percent from Friday to Saturday, a clear sign of significant word of mouth. Most movies open to younger audiences, which older moviegoers then catch up to in the second or third week if the buzz around the film is strong. “Gravity” will be doing it the opposite way, looking to broaden to younger audiences. That Warner Bros. marketers were able to mobilize mature moviegoers to not only get out on opening weekend, but to ante up for 3D or Imax as well, is impressive and speaks to the film’s powerful draw.

>> Bullock has become a bona fide box-office force. Forty-six percent of the “Gravity” audience was women, high for a sci-fi movie. Credit the presence of Bullock, who promoted the film relentlessly, for much of that. The actress is on sizzling box office run: each of her four films have opened to more than her previous best. Her last three films – “The Proposal,” “The Blind Side,” “The Heat” – were hits and opened to $33 million, $34 million and $39 million respectively, before the “Gravity” debut blew the lid off.

>> Imax accounted for an eye-popping $11.8 million, or more than 20 percent of the total receipts, of the opening weekend receipts. It’s the first time Imax has provided that big of a slice of the pie for a movie that opened over $50 million. The large-screen chain has largely cleared the decks for “Gravity,” and will be providing premium price boosts through October. And Warner Bros. will have no trouble keeping in 3D theaters after this weekend.

>> For the most part, there’s not a ton of competition, once you get past this weekend. “Machete Kills” opens Friday, “Carrie,” “Escape Plan” and “The Fifth Estate” are the next week and then its “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” and “The Counselor” the following week. There’s no clearly older-skewing film among those, and there won’t be until Nov. 1, when CBS Films rolls out “Last Vegas,” which stars Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline.

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

The exception – and it’s a big one – is Sony’s Tom Hanks modern-day piracy saga “Captain Phillips,” which opens Friday. The thriller directed by Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) is similarly well-reviewed (88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and also has serious star-power and awards ambitions.

Sony sneaked it at 800 theaters on Saturday and was glad to see sellouts in both major and mid-sized markets. And another number out of the screenings – that 71 percent of those that went to see the Somali pirate saga sneaks were over 35 – has Sony execs smiling, too.