“You will know her name,” screamed the ads for Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel about a telekinetic teen’s revenge on her cruel classmates and crazy mom. Yes, everyone knows her name, from the 1976 trash-classic horror film starring Sissy Spacek, and knew it well enough to skip the remake with Chloë Grace Moretz. In Cheers terms, she was less Norm (“Norm!”) than the other guy (Cliff Clavin). And for all Carrie’s mischief-making powers, the new movie had no awesome pull, especially when it went up against the force of Gravity.
In its third frame, Alfonso Cuarón’s space epic took the No. 1 spot with $31 million at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates. It’s the first movie to threepeat at the top since The Hobbit last December. Again dropping less than 30% from the previous weekend, Gravity has now earned $170.6 million at home and $114.2 million abroad. The rare prestige item to get a boost from 3-D, the film snagged 82% of its gross from theaters requiring a surcharge for spectacles, and it continued to score big in IMAX auditoriums — a bonus that should last until Ender’s Game grabs a huge chunk of the IMAX acreage a week from Friday.
(READ: Jeffrey Kluger’s Gravity Fact Check)
[MONDAY UPDATE: The top four Sunday movies all reported weekend grosses significantly higher than the actual numbers issued this afternoon. Gravity finished at $30 million, down 3.2% from its estimate yesterday; Captain Phillips, at $16.4 million, was down 5.1%; Carrie at $16.1 million, down 5.3%; and Cloudy With a Chance if Meatballs 2 at $9.7 million, down 4.2%. Escape Plan, by registering a 1% increase over the Sunday prediction, to $9.9 million, hopscotched over Meatballs 2 for fourth place in the final tally.]
Carrie, costarring Julianne Moore as the girl’s mom and directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), was expected to do better because it was the only horror film of the month — Shocktober! — and the first one in a decade not to compete with a high-grossing terror franchise like The Grudge, Saw or Paranormal Activity. In the past 10 years, the biggest October horror films averaged an opening gross of $35.8 million. Carrie, poor dear, won’t hit half that number: its Sunday estimate is $17 million.
(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Carrie)
Budgeted at a reasonable $30 million, the movie received a shrugging B-minus in the CinemaScore poll of early attendees, who skewed female (56%) and youngish (56% under the age of 25). Horror films with a female protagonist generally attract a higher percentage of women. That was the case with two of the year’s earlier scare hits: Mama at 61%, The Conjuring at 53%. The Mama audience was 63% under 25, while The Conjuring crowd was only 41% under 25.
(FIND: The 1976 Carrie on the all-TIME Top 25 Horror Movies list)
The lower number of young customers for Carrie and The Conjuring can be attributed to the R rating for those films; Mama had a teen- and tween-friendly PG-13. But Carrie‘s mediocre showing indicates the dearth of Hollywood’s core young-adult audience this fall. Adults pay to see Gravity and two kidnap dramas — the Tom Hanks Captain Phillips ($53.3 million in its first 10 days) and the Hugh Jackman-Jake Gyllenhaal Prisoners ($57.3 million in 31 days) — and take their toddlers to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 ($93.1 million in its fourth week). As for moviegoers over 12 and under 30, they must be saving up for next month’s big Games: Ender’s… and The Hunger…: Catching Fire.
(READ: Lev Grossman on the unfilmability of Ender’s Game)
Not that a familiar old face or an adult theme guarantees big business. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a tag team that would have killed a quarter-century ago, joined forces for Escape Plan and earned a puny $9.8 million. Though it cadged an indulgent B-plus CinemaScore from patrons who were male (56%) and older (61% over 30), the action film cost a hefty $70 million ro produce; the stars must have been paid like it’s 1989. To even approach breaking even, Escape Plan must hope that Sly, 67, and Arnold, 66, still have some appeal for audiences abroad.
A flotilla of geriatrics — 90% over the age of 25 — queued for The Fifth Estate, a tattling bio-pic about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, played by the he’s-everywhere Brit actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Unfortunately for the film, directed by Dreamgirls and Breaking Dawn helmer Bill Condon, 90% of nothing is nothing. The Fifth Estate took in a paltry $1.7 million, proving yet again that an inside-journalism movie (The Insider, Shattered Glass) is of little interest to moviegoers unless it stars Robert Redford and is called All the President’s Men.
At 77, Redford is not the box-office golden boy of yore. In the past dozen years, the four films he’s starred in have grossed a meager total of $34.3 million — and one of those (Lions for Lambs) costarred Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. As the only person on screen in J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, a maritime disaster drama about a man stranded on a disabled boat, Redford has earned some of the most glowing reviews of his long career and seems a cinch for an Academy Award nomination. Yet in a six-theater opening in major cities, the movie amassed just $97,400, for a $16,233 per-screen average. If it doesn’t receive the life preserver of must-see word-of-mouth, All Is Lost could be jetsam by Oscar season.
(READ: Mary Corliss’s review of All Is Lost)
The weekend’s other big art-house opening, 12 Years a Slave, fared much better: $960,000 in 19 theaters, for a $50,000-plus per-screen average. Director Steve McQueen’s searing depiction of slave labor on Louisiana plantations in the 1840s, which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Alfred Woodard, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch, is touted along with Gravity as an early contender for the Best Picture Oscar.
(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of 12 Years a Slave)
The movie’s early figures are strong but not record-breaking. Four years ago, another horrifying-edifying story about African-Americans averaged $104,000, or more than double the Slave take, on 18 screens. That was Precious, Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, in which a teen girl was serially abused by her heinous mother. (Call it the Carrie of message movies.) The mostly rapturous reviews for the McQueen film have stressed its brutal imagery, which may frighten away some viewers. The mass movie audience will have to decide whether to subject itself to the endless if instructive ordeal that is 12 Years a Slave.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Gravity, $31 million; $170.6 million, third week
2. Captain Phillips, $17.3 million; $53.3 million, second week
3. Carrie, $17 million, first weekend
4. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, $10.1 million; $93.1 million, fourth week
5. Escape Plan, $9.8 million, first weekend
6. Prisoners, $2.1 million; $57.3 million, fifth week
7. Enough Said, $1.8 million; $10.8 million, fifth week
8. The Fifth Estate, $1.7 million, first weekend
9. Runner Runner, $1.6 million; $17.5 million, third week
10. Insidious Chapter 2, $1.5 million; $80.9 million, sixth week