Gravity and Captain Phillips top the US box office

While The Fifth Estate performs worse than hoped.

Gravity, from Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón was the top release of the past month, grossing over US$426m worldwide (including US$218m in North America) since its 4 October release. The film stars box office heavyweights George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Bullock plays Dr Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). While on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes and their shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone in space.

The 2nd biggest release of the month was Captain Phillips, from Green Zone director, Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks. The film is based on the true story of merchant mariner Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali Pirates during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009.

Since its 11 October release the film has grossed US$125m worldwide - of which US$82m was in North America alone. Overseas receipts are expected to improve significantly going forward as the film is yet to be released in a number of locations and should reach over US$200m worldwide by closing.

The much awaited Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger prison film Escape Plan also opened this month and has performed relatively well at the international box office, grossing over US$50m worldwide since its 18 October release.

The film stars Schwarzenegger and Stallone as inmates who try to escape from a maximum security hi-tech prison. We expect the film to end off at around US$100m total worldwide gross, more than covering the film’s US$50m budget. This return is significantly healthier than the two last films from either of these two actors: Stallone’s Bullet to the Head grossed only US$22m off a budget of US$55m whilst Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand grossed U$37m off a budget of US$30m.

Other major October releases included Runner Runner, Machete Kills and The Fifth Estate.

The Fifth Estate tells the story of Julian Assange. Despite a fair amount of hype, the film has performed poorly so far, earning only US$6m worldwide off a budget of US$28m since its 18 October release.

Friends reunited: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in "Escape Plan".

Andrew Amoils is a writer for WealthInsight

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.