Box Office: 'Gravity' Soars, Sets October Record With $55.8 Million Debut

UPDATED: The Sandra Bullock-George Clooney space epic -- fueled by adults -- does huge business in 3D; Justin Timberlake-Ben Affleck poker thriller "Runner Runner" folds with $7.6 million.

Once again proving the power of older moviegoers, Alfonso Cuaron's 3D space epic Gravity debuted to a record-breaking $55.8 million in North America, the top October opening of all-time and the best three-day showing for stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Overseas, Gravity also won the weekend with a solid $28.4 million from 27 markets for a worldwide total of $84.2 million.

Gravity's launch caps a substantial production and marketing effort by Warner Bros. and years of work on Cuaron's part. The $100 million movie -- doing huge business in 3D cinemas ($44 million) -- appears destined to be a player in this year's awards race, based on critical reaction and box-office returns.

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Running only 90 minutes, Gravity received an A- CinemaScore and skewed male (54 percent). Adults over the age of 25 made up more than 82 percent of the audience, while nearly 60 percent was over the age of 35. This was evidenced by a sizeable 31 percent jump Saturday, when more adults become available.

"In two days, this movie has become a cultural phenomenon. People who haven't gone to the movies in years, or who only see one or two movies a year, are going to see Gravity," explains Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman. At the same time, he says, the film has already begun to play younger.

Gravity revolves around two astronauts left floating in space after their space shuttle is damaged (Bullock has a far bigger role). Producers include David Heyman, who played a key role in Warners' Harry Potter franchise. Heyman and Cuaron, who directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, brought the project to Warners after Universal put it into turnaround.

All told, 80 percent of Gravity's opening-weekend revenue came from 3D screens. It's a needed boost, considering the dramatic decline in 3D attendance. It's one of the highest 3D splits ever. (Avatar's 3D share on opening weekend was 72 percent, while Life of Pi's was 68 percent.) Internationally, the 3D share was 70 percent.

Imax theaters generated a hearty $11.2 million in North America, or 20 percent of the total take, representing the top October showing of all-time for the large-format cinema chain, as well as the No. 9 opening of all-time.

Paranormal Activity 3 was the previous record holder for a top October opening ($52.6 million), followed by Jackass 3-D ($50.4 million), Taken 2 ($49.5 million) and Scary Movie 3 ($48.1 million). Bullock's previous best was The Heat ($39.1 million); Clooney's record was Batman & Robin ($42.9 million).

Internationally, Russia -- a booming market for 3D -- led with $8.1 million. In Europe, Gravity did solid business in Germany ($3.8 million), Italy ($2.6 million) and Spain ($2.3 million). The movie has yet to open in a raft of key markets, including the U.K., France, Brazil, Mexico and Japan.

Imax's foreign take was $3.2 million for a global total of $14.4 million.

Adding intrigue to the weekend, Sony held sneaks of Paul Greengrass' Somali pirate drama Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, in 800 theaters Saturday night, a week ahead of its opening. Sony said there were sell-out crowds in cities such as Los Angeles and New York, but that the screenings were 75 percent full on average.

The only other new wide player this weekend was New Regency and 20th Century Fox's gambling thriller Runner Runner, starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. Runner Runner quickly folded despite its star power, taking in only $7.6 million after earning a dismal C CinemaScore. The saving grace is the film's reported $30 million budget. Internationally, the movie is likewise doing subdued business, grossing $23.6 million to date from 52 markets for a world total of $31.2 million.

"Considering the movie's cost, we'll be just fine," Fox senior vp distribution Spencer Klein said.

Runner Runner was directed by Brad Furman and also stars Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie. New Regency, which fully financed the film, partnered with Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way on the project.

From a script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders), Runner Runner revolves around a Princeton University student (Timberlake) who is lured into an Internet poker scam by the owner of a popular gambling website (Affleck).

Runner Runner placed No. 3 after Gravity and Sony holdover Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, which grossed a pleasing $21.5 million in its second weekend, for a North American total of $60.6 million.

Alcon Entertainment and Warners' Prisoners continued to thrive in its third weekend, placing No. 4 with $7.6 million and pushing the film's domestic total to $55.6 million.

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Ron Howard's Rush fell to No. 5 in its second week, tumbling 56 percent to $4.4 million for a North American total of $18.3 million. The Formula One drama, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, is making up ground overseas, where it has already earned north of $30 million.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut Don Jon likewise saw a substantial decline in its second outing, falling 54 percent to $4.2 million for a domestic total of $15.2 million.

Among more limited offerings, Pantelion Films -- the joint venture between Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa -- entered the market with another Spanish-language film on the heels of the success of Instructions Not Included.

Romantic comedy Pulling Strings, starring Mexican celebrity Jaime Camil, placed No. 9 with $2.5 million. That's far less than the $7.8 million opening of Instructions Not Included at the end of August, but with Gravity sucking up much of the oxygen, it's still a solid start. Pulling Strings also is facing competition from Instructions Not Included, which is expected to earn a pleasing $1.9 million for the weekend, bringing its North American total to $41.3 million.

Pulling Strings, set in Mexico City, stars Camil as a mariachi who falls for an American embassy employee (Laura Ramsey).

Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said, starring the late James Gandolfini opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus, cracked the top 10 chart as it expanded into a total of 437 theaters in its third weekend, grossing $2.2 million for Fox Searchlight. The film's domestic total is $5.4 million.

Not far behind was the Metropolitan Opera's The Met: Live in HD program, which kicked off its eighth season Saturday with a live transmission of Eugene Onegin. The broadcast grossed $1.9 million from 800 theaters in North America, with an additional 108,000 people seeing it overseas.

Twitter: @PamelaDayM