"Gravity," Warner Bros. Pictures' space thriller, launched to the top of the box office in its opening weekend, entering the orbit of record-setting films.
Director Alfonso Cuarón's critically-acclaimed movie about astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded while on a spacewalk took in an estimated $55.6 million, a record for movies released in October, the entertainment-trade magazine Variety reported.
"People that haven't gone to the movies in years, or who see one or two movies a year, are going to see 'Gravity,'" Warner Bros.' domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "In two days, this movie has become a cultural phenomenon."
Contributing to its record opening, "Gravity" pulled in $11.2 million from large-format IMAX theaters and $27.4 million from international theaters, led by Russia, Germany, and Australia. Domestically, 80 percent of the proceeds came from 3D screenings (compared to 70 percent overseas). [See photos from the film "Gravity"]
"A lot of people who grew up going to see IMAX space documentaries like 'Space Station' and 'Hubble 3D' made the connection to see this film also in IMAX," stated Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX Entertainment, in an interview with Variety.
The previous box office record for an October opening was set by 2011's "Paranormal Activity 3," which took in $52.6 million in its first weekend.
"Gravity" also set domestic opening records for the film's two stars, surpassing Bullock's "The Heat" ($39.1 million) and Clooney's "Batman & Robin" ($42.9 million). "Gravity" was Cuarón's second-best opening after "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," which producer David Heynman was also attached.
The $55.6 million opening eclipsed the industry estimates, which projected "Gravity" would top the weekend with $35 million.
Lending to the film's initial success was the near-universal praise from critics. Rotten Tomatoes, an online film review aggregator, certified "Gravity" 98 percent "fresh" based on 216 reviews. Ninety-one (91) percent of the site's readers also said that they liked the movie.
"As the credits roll, you may find yourself thinking about real space launches you've watched or watching man walk on the moon, and remembering that feeling of awe at how man ever developed the technology to explore space in the first place," wrote Jocelyn Noveck in her review for the Associated Press.
Astronauts also praised the film. Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin wrote for The Hollywood Reporter that he was "very, very impressed." Tom Jones, who like Bullock's and Clooney's characters conducted spacewalks from the space shuttle, advised for Popular Mechanics, "watch 'Gravity' and you'll know why astronauts eagerly sign up for the next launch."
Cady Coleman, who was on board the International Space Station in 2010 when she provided advice to Bullock about portraying an astronaut, told collectSPACE that the movie brings audiences to outer space.
"What [Gravity] does," Coleman said, "is it brings a bunch of people on Earth up to space, and they become the real astronauts."
Click through to collectSPACE.com to see “Gravity” star Sandra Bullock’s and director Alfonso Cuarón’s surprised reactions to receiving real flown-in-space artifacts.