Box office preview: 'Gravity' headed for a stellar debut

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Gravity has been earning out-of-this-world reviews, but will its box office match the buzz?

Here’s how I think the box office might shake out this weekend:

1. Gravity – $41 million
Warner Bros. has put its full marketing force behind Gravity over the past few months — a sure sign that the studio is feeling good about Alfonso Cuaron’s $80 million sci-fi thriller, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The film has garnered spectacular pre-release buzz thanks to glowing critical reactions (it has a 98 percent “Fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes) and its strikingly sparse trailers, which conclude with the harrowing image of a heavy-breathing Bullock floating away helplessly into the void of outer space.

It’s been a mixed year for original sci-fi films at the box office. Oblivion and Pacific Rim both opened with about $37 million, but they proved exceedingly frontloaded, finishing with $89.1 million and $101.6 million domestically — far less than their budgets. Elysium, meanwhile, opened to an underwhelming $29.8 million. Gravity has a more accessible plot line than any of those films, and Bullock’s presence should draw more women to the theater. Add in Oscar buzz and popcorn appeal and Gravity seems poised to have major pull. I’m thinking it hits $41 million for the weekend.

2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 – $19.5 million
The family film may dip by about 40 percent in its second weekend to $19.5 million, which would give it a $58 million total after ten days.

3. Runner Runner – $12 million
Despite starring Justin Timberlake, the biggest pop star on the planet right now, and Ben Affleck, who’s on a hot streak after winning an Oscar for Argo and nabbing the Batman role, Runner Runner has not built sufficient buzz to suggest it will break out this weekend. The $30 million crime thriller will have to fight negative reviews — and the massive appeal of Gravity. It may finish the weekend with a weak $12 million from 3,024 theaters.

4. Prisoners – $6 million
Prisoners may drop by another 45 percent while facing off against Gravity for a $6 million frame. By Sunday night, the revenge thriller should have about $48 million total — slightly more than its $46 million budget.

5. Rush – $5.5 million
After a tepid expansion last weekend, Ron Howard’s Formula One racing drama may decelerate to about $5.5 million, enough for a $19 million haul.

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