Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's Gravity is setting box-office records. Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips is off to a bigger-than-expected start. So much for horror-movie villains and their teenaged victims ruling Halloween season.
Bullock, Clooney and Hanks are running the table, and doing so in unexpected ways.
Gravity is an original sci-fi tale. Captain Phillips, though based on a memoir, isn't a sequel or high-concept property. Both films are on track for awards season; neither film is especially geared for the (younger) moviegoer who made Paranormal Activity 3 the top-opening October release ever until Gravity came along.
"Obviously concept is king in Hollywood, but star power is still a major factor," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock said via email, "and when you perfectly coincide the two, box-office results can be significantly bolstered."
After two weekends in theaters, Gravity, at $122.4 million and counting at the domestic box office, is already the fourth-biggest hit of both Bullock's and Clooney's acting careers. The space thriller, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), who cowrote the script with son Jonas Cuaron, initially scored big thanks to the over-35 ticket buyer, who didn't shy away from IMAX 3-D prices. This past weekend, the film scored IMAX's biggest-ever second-weekend take. And this time it wasn't just the grownups who were standing in line.
"Exhibitors have commented the audience has spread younger, and [Gravity is] now playing from 8 to 80 years of age," Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said in an email. "Fantastic word of mouth along with the 3-D presentation is the driving force behind the film's great success."
The $26 million opening-weekend bow for Captain Phillips, meanwhile, was Hanks' biggest for a character drama since the actor last battled the elements in Cast Away, and was October's biggest drama debut since The Departed. Like Gravity, Captain Phillips owed its success to a sort of gravitas: its opening-weekend audience was predominantly age 35 and older.
Hanks, like Bullock and Clooney, is himself part of the 35-and-older crowd. But far from being a drag on the box office, Bock thinks Hanks' age has bouyed the survival film.
Horror and teenagers will try to stage a comeback this coming weekend when Carrie, the latest reboot of the Stephen King classic, opens.
But even if Chloë Grace Moretz, who stars in the new film, bypasses Hanks and makes a run at Bullock and Clooney, and she may, the veteran stars will still be around. And long after October ends.