Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
October 8, 2013
Kim Hollis: Gravity, the Alfonso Cuaron-directed film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, debuted with $55.7 million this weekend. What do you think of this result?
Edwin Davies: I thought that people seemed to be underselling the film going into the weekend, particularly the reports saying that they thought it would fail to crack $40 million, but even I'm surprised that it took the October record. Having seen the film, I can say that it definitely deserved to, though, since it's a perfect blend of intelligent, brilliantly crafted filmmaking and visceral thrills, which is a combination that it hard to get right. I think it's interesting that people are now talking about it as an Oscar contender, because I think the key to its success so far lies in the fact that it was not marketed as a prestige picture. The ecstatic reviews and early word from Venice and Toronto obviously started that talk, but the trailers placed the emphasis solely on the danger of the situation and showing off the spectacular visuals. It promised to be a great thrill ride, and the great reviews and inclusion of Sandra Bullock, who is coming off some of the biggest hits of her career, made for perfect conditions for Gravity to catch on with audiences.
David Mumpower: Unlike Edwin, I was never confident of the box office prospects of Gravity. I have worried that the claustrophobic nature of the setting would keep some potential movie goers away. People have been mentioning Open Water as a comparison, because it was a sub-million dollar production that earned $30 million domestically. It also happens to be similarly themed in that a couple is stranded in a hopeless situation, and the story entails their fight to survive. Cast Away was of course the most recognizable movie to explore this concept, grossing $427 million globally along the way. There are, however, examples of recent copies of the idea that failed to entice viewers. I consider Ryan Reynolds' Buried to be an exceptional movie yet it earned barely a million domestically (albeit with $18 million worth of international revenue).
My concern all along is that in the wake of Cast Away, even the success stories have been small in scale. Gravity stars arguably the most successful actor and actress in the world. Its expectations are different. In addition, there is an aspect to this story that is never chronicled enough when people evaluate box office. Ours is an industry built upon sequels, adaptations, and remakes. There are also the Pixar/DreamWorks Animation premises that may be original concepts but they are selling the brands of those studios.
A truly original concept rarely breaks out to $50 million. In fact, if we ignore The Passion of the Christ, a movie I consider an adaptation, Gravity has placed itself in the company of titles such as Avatar ($77 million) and Inception ($62.8 million). In tearing up the weekend box office, Gravity became only the ninth live action original story to gross $55 million. The two films I mention are the best direct comparisons in that they received glowing reviews that were integral to anchoring the box office not just on opening weekend but for an extended period. And I believe that consumers who were on the fence regarding Gravity were swayed by the combination of breathtaking visuals and orgasmic reviews. I fully expect that trend to continue as I have yet to see someone say they were disappointed by Gravity. Not everyone is absolutely in love with it, but the less satisfied customers are still describing it as solid. The more euphoric folks are falling all over themselves to praise a movie that very well could be the 2001 of this generation.
Matthew Huntley: I'm with David in that I never thought Gravity would open so huge, although in hindsight, there was no reason to think otherwise. Besides its stars and bankable concept (which, as David mentioned, has previously been tested and accepted by mainstream audiences), the trailer has been playing for months, and I even recall leaning over to my fiancee at one point during the summer movie-going season - I believe it was for Despicable Me 2 of all titles - saying, "I've seen this trailer SO many times," and that was three months ago. Plus, there were so many iterations of it. Point being, the buzz for Gravity has been building for a while now and this weekend gave people the chance to see what it was all about.