Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Who says female stars can't command big numbers at the box office? This weekend's overwhelming winner was Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's Gravity. The lost-in-space drama from director Alfonso Cuarón raked in more than $55 million – one of the biggest October openings of all time — while Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck's latest, Runner, Runner, brought in just $7.8 million. Chump change, really.
Gravity's smash success could be a good sign for women in Hollywood. Earlier this year, a study found that less than 30% of speaking roles in film belonged to women in 2012. What gives? "Industry perceptions of the audience drive much of what we see on-screen," said study author Stacy L. Smith. "There is a perception that movies that pull male sell. Given that females go to the movies as much as males, the lack of change is likely due to entrenched ways of thinking and doing business that perpetuate the status quo." The truth is, female-driven movies like Bridesmaids or The Hunger Games can succeed. It's just that their success is often treated as the exception, not the rule — and therefore more easily dismissed by the film industry. Gravity's triumph can't only be attributed to Bullock. George Clooney has something to do with it, as does Cuarón, whose previous successes include Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth. Of course, Gravity's giant pre-release marketing budget didn't hurt, either.
On its face, Runner, Runner has all the ingredients for success. J.T. Ben Affleck. Exotic locales. Sexy sex. But the crime thriller, about a corrupt kingpin of an online gambling empire, was universally panned, scoring a measly 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. As Newsday critic Rafer Guzman noted, "The movie mostly wants to look timely and seem topical. Instead, it feels irrelevant." And maybe that's just it: At a time when so many people are struggling, a film about rich people building a criminal gambling empire seems desperately out of touch.
And then there's Gravity's heart — the arc of Bullock's character, Dr. Ryan Stone. Despite taking place in the far reaches of space, the story about a mother grieving for her lost child feels much more human and relatable. Bullock doesn't try to seduce us. There's no romance. No sex. Just the very human story of a woman whose life is in turmoil, who literally and figuratively escapes to space and who must fight to make her way back to Earth to survive.