October is closer than it may seem, and with it comes an impressive slate of pre-holiday films on the receiving end of critical buzz. Not the least of which is Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
For those following the awards circuit, you probably already know the film's first screenings out of Venice and Telluride have gone over extraordinarily well, with words like "masterpiece" bandied about.
It's apparent that critics and die-hard movie fans are going to be eating Gravity up for awhile, but will that excitement carry over to mainstream audiences? Science fiction has shown a modest track record at the box office this year, and--inaccurate as they may be--some outside the film community have compared the film's premise to Open Water, 2003's divisive faux documentary.
Gravity isn't October 4's only notable opener, though. For the third time in four years, Ben Affleck will entice autumn's moviegoers with a thriller in Runner Runner. Considering recent news on top of how well 2010's The Town and 2012's Best Picture-winning Argo went over commercially ($92.2 million and $136 million, respectively), it's hard to ignore an Affleck vehicle right now.
However, director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) is the man behind the camera and--although Affleck features prominently in the marketing--Justin Timberlake is the apparent star of the film, opposite Ben's antagonist. That should significantly swing the advantage of star power in Gravity's direction.
As expected, online buzz for Gravity is driving impressive activity of late. Its level of Twitter discussion currently tops that of original sci-fi pics Pacific Rim and Looper by 170 percent and 430 percent, respectively. Looking beyond the genre itself, Gravity leads last year's Flight by 737 percent and Argo itself by 578 percent.
Facebook buzz for Gravity is also multiplying with a huge 38 percent increase in fans over the last five days. Following its Telluride debut last year, Argo notched a 53 percent increase in "likes". Flixster backs up the healthy numbers, where Gravity is on par with Pacific Rim's activity three weeks from release and significantly ahead of all other comparison films.
On the flip side, Fox's Runner Runner isn't quite connecting with social media crowds. Twitter activity is ahead of 2 Guns by nearly 8 percent, but trails Timberlake's In Time by 9 percent. The latter opened to $12.1 million in October 2011.
Runner Runner gains some encouragement on Facebook with more than double the number of fans posted by 2 Guns and triple that of In Time. Flixster results are mixed with slightly stronger anticipatory numbers than In Time (likely due to Affleck's presence) and two-thirds the number of voters as 2 Guns had at the same point.
The long and short of it: while it's tough to rule out a decent performance for Runner Runner, Warner Bros.' Gravity has quickly become the favorite to win its debut weekend. The early acclaim for Bullock's performance should drive buzz among the uninitiated between now and October 4--after all, it wouldn't be the first time she's rocketed a film's mainstream success through her acting chops.
Gravity's odds of a $30 million debut are increasing rapidly, while Runner Runner is aiming at a more modest $15-20 million. Beyond opening weekend, if you'll forgive the lazy--but apropos--cliché, the sky seems to be the limit for Gravity. If audience reception is at all reminiscent of early critical raves, the film could be in for a leggy box office run. WB has been in that position recently with the aforementioned likes of The Town and Argo, adding a twist of irony to the weekend.
Check back soon for continuing previews of the fall's upcoming releases.
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The Gravity trailer:
The Runner Runner trailer: