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Best of 2013 (Behind the Scenes): Penning the tense 'Prisoners'

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Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski is a father now, but he’s thankful he wasn’t one when he sat down to work on the script for Prisoners, the dark drama released in September starring Hugh Jackman as a father who’s willing to do whatever it takes to locate his abducted daughter — including torture the man he’s convinced kidnapped her and her friend. “I think if I’d had kids, I wouldn’t have lasted long. I wouldn’t have been able to write it. Your kids would constantly creep in to the imaginary scenario you’re constantly running through your head. At the time, I was just trying to imagine the worst thing possible,” he says. “I wanted to write something that involves things that scare me personally. One of the things I’m most scared of is losing things — it could be anything, even things that aren’t that consequential. Obviously when it comes to kids, it’s multiplied by a million times. I’m also kind of geographically-challenged. I’m constantly getting lost, so it’s something that I’m paranoid about. I took those two fears and used them as the jumping off point.”

How do you build a story that keeps people on the edge of their seats for two and a half hours straight? EW spoke with Guzikowski — who’s also created The Red Road, a six-episode TV series premiering on Sundance Channel in February that he describes as “Breaking Bad meets Twin Peaks” — for a few hints.

Click here for more of our Best of 2013 coverage. READ FULL STORY

Box office report: 'Gravity' pulls in record-breaking $55.6 million

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Warner Bros.’ $100 million Alfonso Cuarón-directed thriller Gravity blasted off on its opening weekend at the box office, scoring a stunning $55.6 million from 3,575 theaters. The sci-fi title, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, set a new October opening weekend record, surpassing Paranormal Activity 3‘s $52.6 million debut in 2011.

Gravity also marks the best-ever debut for both of its stars, beating Bullock’s $39.1 million start for this summer’s The Heat (talk about having a great year at the box office!) and Clooney’s $42.9 million debut for Batman & Robin in 1997. And to put a cherry on top of Warner Bros.’ incredible weekend, audiences issued Gravity an excellent “A-” CinemaScore grade, which will yield great word-of-mouth for weeks to come. READ FULL STORY

Box office update: 'Gravity' blasts off with $17.5 million Friday, could hit $50 million for the weekend

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Warner Bros.’ $80 million thriller Gravity demonstrated some major pull on its opening day at the box office. The film, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as stranded astronauts, scored a tremendous $17.5 million on its first day, which puts the film on pace for a weekend in the $50 million range.

Gravity will almost certainly become the best opening weekend ever for both of its stars, surprassing Bullock’s $39 million start for The Heat earlier this year and Clooney’s $42.9 million debut for Batman & Robin in 1997. It looks like Warner Bros.’ bold, stylish ad campaign has paid off. READ FULL STORY

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

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. READ FULL STORY

Box office report: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' rolls past 'Rush', 'Don Jon' with $35 million debut

Four years after the original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs stormed theaters, Sony’s $78 million sequel Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 topped the chart once again, earning $35 million in its first weekend. The film opened in an ultra-wide 4,001 theaters, and it notched a strong $8,748 location average.

The first Cloudy scored $30.3 million in its debut frame on the way to a $124.9 million finish. Most prognosticators were expecting Cloudy 2 to finish above the $40 million mark — in the same range as Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania, which opened last September with $42.5 million, the best September debut in history. Cloudy 2 finished a bit below that, but it still notched the fourth best September bow of all time behind Transylvania, Insidious Chapter 2 ($40.3 million), and Sweet Home Alabama ($35.6 million).

The film benefited from a lack of animated competition in the marketplace. Planes, the last animated title to hit theaters, debuted nearly two months ago, and moving ahead, Cloudy should endure quite well due to a dearth of family films in October. The next kiddie flick entering theaters is the Thanksgiving-themed Free Birds on Nov. 1. Thus, Cloudy, with its “A-” CinemaScore grade, should have no trouble playing to parents and children for weeks to come.

Last weekend’s champion, Prisoners, locked up another $11.3 million in its second frame, with a 46 percent drop from its $20.8 million debut last weekend. Warner Bros.’ $46 million revenge thriller, which stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, has now earned $39 million. Despite great reviews, though, the drama is facing serious competition from other well-reviewed adult fare such as Rush and Don Jon (and next weekend’s Gravity), which could limit its final box office potential.

That said, Ron Howard’s Formula One racing drama Rush raced off with a rather lackluster $10.3 million in its expansion from five theaters into 2,297 locations. The Universal-distributed film, which stars Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, marks a major decrease from Howard’s last sports drama, Cinderella Man, which punched up $18.3 million in its 2005 debut. For Hemsworth, Rush (obviously) started off slower than both Thor and The Avengers, but it also under-performed compared to his non-superhero vehicles The Cabin in the Woods ($14.7 million) and Red Dawn ($14.3 million). The film will need great word of mouth to drive it to profitability, and given its strong “A-” CinemaScore, it may achieve that. Also working in Rush‘s favor? Its relatively low $38 million budget.

Two newcomers rounded out the Top 5, though both finished the weekend with rather lackluster totals. The Paula Patton-starring romantic comedy Baggage Claim flew away with $9.3 million from 2,027 theaters, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s porn-addiction comedy Don Jon pulled in a more tepid $9 million from 2,422 theaters. Baggage Claim‘s  “A-” CinemaScore grade suggests it could find an audience in the weeks to come, though Don Jon’s weak “C+” grade may signify challenging word of mouth (despite strong reviews) down the road. Fortunately, Don Jon cost only $6 million to produce, so it should turn  a nice profit for Relativity. Fox Searchlight did not disclose the budget for Baggage Claim.

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 – $35 million
2. Prisoners – $11.3 million
3. Rush – $10.3 million
4. Baggage Claim – $9.3 million
5. Don Jon – $9 million

Further down the chart, Eugenio Derbez’s Spanish-language comedy Instructions Not Included scored another $3.4 million from 948 theaters, for a remarkable $38.6 million cumulative total. The film surpassed Pan’s Labyrinth ($37.6 million) this weekend to become the highest-grossing Spanish-language film in U.S. box office history. It’s a major winner for young distributor Pantelion, a joint venture of Lionsgate and Mexican media company Televisa.

This weekend, Sandra Bullock’s ultra buzzy sci-fi thriller Gravity floats into theaters — as does the rather unbuzzy Justin Timberlake-Ben Affleck thriller Runner Runner. Check back to EW to see how both films fare at the box office.

Box office update: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' wins Friday with $9.3 million; 'Rush' races into second place

Sony’s $78 million sequel Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 pulled in $9.3 million on its Friday debut, putting it at the top of the box office. The film will easily outgross the original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs‘ $30.2 million debut, though it will likely miss the $40 million mark that most prognosticators assumed it would reach this weekend. Cloudy 2 should make it rain to the tune of about $35 million.

In second place, Ron Howard’s Formula One racing drama Rush drove away with $3.7 million on Friday after expanding from five theaters into 2,297 locations. The film, which stars Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, should score about $11 million this weekend — a big step down form Howard’s last sports drama, Cinderella Man, which punched up $18.3 million in 2005. READ FULL STORY

Box office preview: 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2' ready to make it rain

For the past two months, Disney’s Planes has had the animated field to itself, but some new family competition is ready to storm the box office this weekend. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 should easily top the chart in its first three days, outgrossing newcomers Don Jon and Baggage Claim — as well as Rush, which races into wide expansion. Here’s how the Top 5 might look:

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 – $43 million
On this weekend last year, Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania broke the September opening weekend record with a $42.5 million debut. This time around, the studio’s sequel Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 could set a new high point out of 4,001 theaters. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opened to a solid $30.2 million in 2009, and thanks to that film’s great reception, the sequel is poised to reach a much larger audience. Add in the lack of current animated competition in the marketplace, and Cloudy 2‘s innovative story line, which features food that has come to life, and the film could score $43 million in its first three days. That would put it over halfway to earning back its $78 million budget.

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Box office report: 'Prisoners' locks up a $21 million debut

You don’t need a detective to figure out the biggest winner at the box office this weekend. Prisoners, the R-rated thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, brought in an estimated $21.4 million, easily beating second-place finisher Insidious Chapter 2 ($14.5 million) and blowing away the weekend’s only other new wide release, Battle of the Year ($5 million). READ FULL STORY

Box office update: 'Prisoners' breaks free from the competition

Hugh Jackman took no Prisoners at the Friday box office. His kidnapping thriller, costarring Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, grossed a healthy $7 million on its first day in theaters (3,260 of them, to be exact). That puts the Warner Bros release on track for an opening weekend haul of around $21 million — strong numbers for a two-and-a-half-hour drama based on an original script, and arguably Jackman’s biggest opening yet for a straight-up drama (2008′s Australia opened with $14.8 million, while Deception earned $2.3 million that same year). READ FULL STORY

Box office preview: 'Prisoners' looks to hold adult moviegoers captive

Feel that change in the air? Fall movie season is about to kick off this weekend with its first big adult drama, the R-rated kidnapping thriller Prisoners.  Arriving in theaters after a well-received premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, the movie boasts an impressive cast, including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Terrence Howard. Welcome to awards season, when the studios start trotting out their prestigious show ponies in earnest.

If you’re looking for something a little less grown-up, the PG-13 horror sequel Insidious Chapter 2 is trying to scare up a strong second weekend following its $40 million opening, while the teen-targeting 3-D dance movie Battle of the Year, featuring R&B star Chris Brown, is also stepping up. (In more limited releases, Ron Howard’s Formula One racing movie Rush is opening in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles, while the sex-addiction comedy Thanks for Sharing will debut in 269 theaters.) But in the end, Prisoners will likely capture the weekend with a solid $20 million bow.

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