Sure, being taken hostage by pirates would be scary. But would it be as heart-in-throat, lungs-on-fire, no-one-can-hear-you-scream terrifying as floating untethered through space? This being October, the month when everyone jointly agrees that being frightened is fun, perhaps audiences chose their movies this weekend like one might choose a haunted house. By that rubric, Gravity trumps Captain Phillips, as the ocean—even when populated by ruthless pirates—has nothing on the uncaring creepiness of outer freakin’ space. Or maybe Gravity is just a really, really big hit.
Alfonso Cuarón's celestial thriller inspired new waves of oohs and aahs, as moviegoers again launched themselves into its orbit. Gravity added $44.3 million to its tally, as well as a couple of fresh stats to its mission log: Holding on harder than a drifting astronaut might cling to a solar panel, the movie dropped just 21 percent in its second weekend; for a non-holiday release that made more than $50 million upon launch, that's a new record. Also impressive is the $9 million it picked up on IMAX screens, which is more than even The Dark Knight Rises made in the mighty format after a full week of release. The numbers make sense: Gravity is a quintessential IMAX experience, the kind of film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, lest it fail to inspire the proper degree of topsy-turvy nausea.
Speaking of queasiness, Captain Phillips turned a fair number of moviegoers into seasick travelers during its maiden weekend, shaking loose—as the waves might shake a boat, or Paul Greengrass might shake a camera—a very solid $26 million from American pockets. Like Gravity, the docudrama benefited from great reviews, an esteemed director, an aging male movie star, a volatile setting, and a general glut of other cineplex options. Perhaps if Greengrass had cast Sandra Bullock instead of Catherine Keener as Tom Hanks' wife—effectively swapping one actress who's played Harper Lee for another—Captain Phillips could have landed as hard as Gravity. Or maybe he should have just transported the film's true story to the cosmos. Space is the new ocean, after all.
Inspiring upset stomachs of a much different kind over at Open Road Films, Machete Kills decidedly did not kill with a dismal $3.7 million opening. Neither Grindhouse, from which the Machete property was born, nor the original Machete movie, made much dinero either. Not even Mel Gibson parodying himself—or, it's perhaps more likely, playing himself as the hero of the imaginary movie Robert Rodroguez told him he was making—could earn the allowance of genre fans. (They were likely busy seeing Gravity again instead.)
Meanwhile, several new indies floated into theaters, like tiny scraps of satellite debris, but none connected with audiences: It was a tale of woe for Romeo & Juliet ($509,000 on 461 screens), an inevitable defeat for The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete ($260,000 on 147 screens), and a tomorrow with no escape for Escape From Tomorrow ($66,100 on 30 theaters). Also, professional space cadet James Franco’s directorial effort As I Lay Dying made $6,000 on one screen in New York. Potential scariness, it's finally clear, had no bearing on the box-office numbers this weekend. After all, there's absolutely nothing scarier, even the unforgiving vacuum of space, than James Franco adapting a William Faulkner novel.
For more detailed numbers, visit Box Office Mojo.