Tom Hanks’ ‘Captain Phillips’ Won’t Defy ‘Gravity’ at Box Office

Sony hopes modern-day piracy saga can follow course set by “Argo,” another Oscar hopeful that launched at No. 2

The Tom Hanks piracy saga “Captain Phillips” goes full steam ahead Friday, but “Gravity” is expected to maintain its orbit in the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend.

The Sandra Bullock-George Clooney 3D space epic is looking at a second week of around $35 million, on the heels of its stunning $55 million debut last weekend. That should be enough to top “Captain Phillips,” which analysts believe will finish at around $20 million, roughly double what “Machete Kills,” the weekend’s other wide opener, should take in.

That’s fine with executives at Sony, the studio behind “Captain Phillips,” who see their movie following a box-office trajectory similar to last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner “Argo.”

Also read: ‘Gravity,’ ‘Captain Phillips’ Face Inaccuracy Charges – Have the Oscar Whisper Campaigns Begun?

Ben Affleck‘s Iran hostage thriller opened to $19 million on this same weekend last year, and finished second to the strong second week of “Taken 2.” It went on to play strongly through awards season and wound up grossing $136 million domestically and $232 million worldwide.

The pieces are in place for “Captain Phillips to make a similar run.

It has an impressive pedigree and Oscar ambitions. Besides Hanks, the director is Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”) and the screenplay is from Billy Ray (“The Hunger Games”). The producers are Dana Brunetti, Scott Rudin and Michael DeLuca, who last teamed on “The Social Network,” and Kevin Spacey is the executive producer.

The buzz out of the festival circuit has been strong and the reviews (90 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes) are sterling. But the sea saga, with was produced for roughly $55 million, faces some challenges at the box office.

The biggest would be Warner Bros.’ over-performing “Gravity,” also a well-reviewed Oscar hopeful and a mature-skewing thriller. Its huge 3D- and Imax-fueled opening generated a ton of buzz, and the movie has played like a summer blockbuster this week, averaging nearly $6 million a day through Wednesday. The domestic total is up to $74 million and worldwide is over $100 million after six days.

Online ticket broker Fandango reported that it was accounting for 70 percent of its sales on Wednesday.

When Sony sneaked “Captain Phillips” last Saturday, more than 70 percent of the audience was over 35. More than 60 percent of the first-week audience for “Gravity” was over 35, so it’s clear the two films are battling for many of the same moviegoers — and could be for weeks. The mature skew bodes well for a long box-office life for both.

Also read: ‘Captain Phillips’ Strong – and Older-Skewing – in Box Office Sneak Previews

“Captain Phillips” is not particularly strong on social media. Its Twitter numbers are a little under those of “Argo” and its Facebook mentions are roughly half of that film’s at a similar pre-release point, according to

Sony will have the PG-13 rated “Captain Phillips” in more than 3,000 theaters.

Open Road Films’ R-rated action exploitation movie “Machete Kills” is directed by Robert Rodriguez, who also produced, co-wrote and handled the cinematography and some of the editing .

machete.kills.onemore timeDanny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba are back from the original “Machete,” which opened to $11 million in 2010 and went on to take in $26 million domestically.

Joining the cast are Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Alexa Vega, Sofia Vergara, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens and Charlie Sheen – credited as Carlos Estevez, in a nod to his Hispanic heritage.

Also read: George Clooney on Oscar Whisper Campaigns, Writing a ‘Gravity’ Scene and Spielberg’s Reaction to the Movie (Exclusive)

The film follows the ex-federale Machete (Trejo), who is recruited by the U.S. President (Sheen) to stop an arms dealer (Gibson) and a revolutionary (Bichir).

Despite the starry cast, the critics aren’t keen on it — it’s at 31 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes. The social media signs aren’t encouraging, either, with numbers badly trailing those of “Kick Ass 2” at a comparable pre-release point.

Open Road would like to see an $8 million debut for “Machete Kills,” which it acquired for around $2 million, and has it on 2,538 screens. It’s banking on healthy returns from VOD and ancillary sales, where the first movie roughly doubled its box office haul.