Space thriller 'Gravity' lifts off with $55.6 mln debut

Reuters

LOS ANGELES, Oct 6 (Reuters) - "Gravity," a new 3D thrillerabout two stranded astronauts floating through space, soared tothe top of weekend movie charts, setting a box office record forthe month of October by pulling in $55.6 million at U.S. andCanadian theaters.

The film, which stars Oscar winners Sandra Bullock andGeorge Clooney and wowed critics with its special effects, added$27.4 million from sales in international markets, for acombined debut of $83 million, distributor Warner Bros. said onSunday.

Last week's box office winner, animated "Cloudy with aChance of Meatballs 2," dropped to second place with $21.5million from Friday through Sunday. "Runner Runner," a new dramaabout the dark and murky world of online gambling, finishedthird after earning $7.6 million.

"Gravity" defied the most optimistic pre-weekend forecastsfrom box office analysts, who saw the film starting off with upto $42 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters. It beat theprevious October record, the $52.5 million opening for"Paranormal Activity 3" in 2011.

In "Gravity," Bullock plays a novice astronaut and engineeralongside Clooney as a mission commander. After an accidentcaused by flying debris, the pair are sent hurtling into spacewith depleting oxygen and remote chances of returning to Earth.

"It's great because it's a film that's played well with thepress and also equally well with the public," said Dan Fellman,Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution.

Critics raved about the visual effects in the film, whichcost close to $100 million to make and reproduced space and zerogravity in ways never seen on screen. Eighty percent of"Gravity" filmgoers purchased the higher-priced 3D tickets,Warner Bros. said.

Overall, 98 percent of critics recommended "Gravity" inreviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes website, with manysuggesting Bullock will be a contender for another best actressOscar.

"Runner Runner" was far less popular with critics, scoring ameager 8 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes on Saturday.The movie stars Justin Timberlake as a graduate student who goesto Costa Rica to confront an online gambling tycoon, played byBen Affleck.

The movie was produced by New Regency for $30 million anddistributed by 20th Century Fox, the film studio owned by 21stCentury Fox.

"Cloudy 2" has now earned $60.6 million at domestic theaterssince its release a week ago. The movie features the voices ofBill Hader and Anna Faris as characters in a world where foodhas come to life as food/animal hybrids called "foodimals."

The week's other top films included "Prisoners," a dramastarring Hugh Jackman as a father searching for his missingdaughter, which took in $5.7 million. Car racing drama "Rush"took the No. 5 slot with $4.4 million.

Also this weekend, Sony released "Captain Phillips" in 800theaters on Saturday to build advance buzz ahead of its widerelease next Friday. The film stars Tom Hanks as the leader of aship hijacked by Somali pirates. A Sony spokesman said he didnot have a dollar estimate for Saturday's showing but saidtheaters were 75 percent full.

Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, released"Gravity" and "Prisoners." "Cloudy 2" and "Captain Phillips"were released by Sony Corp's movie studio."Rush" was distributed by Universal Pictures, a unit of ComcastCorp.

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