USA TODAY - Fueled by the strongest reviews of the year, Gravity hit the stratosphere at the box office this weekend, running rings around the latest thriller from Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.
The Sandra Bullock outer space saga collected $55.6 million, a record in October, according to studio estimates.
The haul easily eclipsed analysts' projections of $35 million, and its near-unanimous positive reviews, analysts say, make it an early frontrunner in the awards race.
Propelling sales: IMAX theaters, which accounted for $11.2 million, the biggest October opening for any film in the colossal format. Company CEO Greg Foster says that the bulk of the nation's 425 IMAX theaters have booked Gravity for the next month.
"We have a special relationship with space films, beginning with our documentaries, and this is the kind of quality movie our audience expects," he says.
3-D acquitted itself well, too, as it accounted for 80% of ticket sales, according to distributing studio Warner Bros. Gravity eclipsed the October debut record of Paranormal Activity 3, which opened to $52.5 million in 2011.
The film earned an astounding thumbs-up from 98% of the nation's critics, according to survey site Rottentomatoes.com.
Fans were nearly as over the moon: 91% of moviegoers said they enjoyed the movie, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and co-starring George Clooney. Nearly 60% of the audience was 35 and over, and the movie scored an A- with moviegoers, according to pollsters CinemaScore.
Tim Briody of Boxofficeprophets.com says that Gravity had no trouble hitting the box office stratosphere despite the unpredictable nature of science fiction films particularly original ones.
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