Well, we all knew “Gravity” would be a crowd pleaser. It’s gotten great reviews so far, and when you put Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a movie directed by Alfonso Cuaron, box office magic is bound to happen.

The 3D space epic opened in the U.S. last night with a 10 p.m. show, grossing a solid $1.4 million already. It will likely cross $40 million at the box office this weekend.

The space thriller has generated good buzz after screening at three of the major fall film festivals — Venice, Telluride and Toronto — and is easily expected to win the weekend. It cost roughly $100 million to produce, and is selling a higher percentage of 3D tickets (91 percent) than any title in Fandango’s history, including James Cameron‘s “Avatar.” Wow!

The story revolves around two astronauts (though Bullock has the bigger role) left floating in space when their space shuttle is damaged. Producers include David Heyman, of “Harry Potter” franchise fame.

Thursday night openings are a good way to get some word-of-mouth going – if the movie is good. Last month, the horror film “Insidious 2” grossed $1.5 million in Thursday night runs on its way to a $40.3 million opening.

The other new player this weekend is New Regency and 20th Century Fox’s gambling thriller “Runner Runner,” starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. That film also opened last night, and is set to earn in the $10 to $12 million range this weekend.

With a $30 million production price tag, “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.

The film, from a script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (“Rounders”), centers on a Princeton University student (Timberlake) who is lured into an Internet poker scam by the site’s owner (Affleck).

Also in the mix – which should make things really interesting at the box office — Sony has decided to sneak in Paul Greengrass‘ Somali pirate drama “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks, in 800 theaters on Saturday night — a week ahead of its opening. We’ll see how that pans out.

Both “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” are sure to do well this awards season. Read Melanie Votaw’s “Captain Phillips” Q&A with Tom Hanks, Paul Greengrass and Barkhad Abdi at the New York Film Festival last week.



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