31 years ago I was interviewing Jack Nicholson at the Carlyle. The promotional agenda was Tony Richardson‘s The Border, but the subject was mainstream audiences, and more particularly that classic Samuel Goldwyn line that “if people don’t want to see something, you can’t stop ’em.” Nicholson put it more succinctly: “They don’t want that — they want this.”

What they’ve seen and enjoyed before, he meant. Comfort, familiarity, assurance, command. A nice five-foot wave they easily catch and surf back to shore on their boogie boards. They don’t want metaphors and meditative undercurrents. As Nicholson put it back in February ’82, “They want their meat loaf and mashed potatoes and gravy on the side.”

Which is why, as Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet reported earlier today, the public has bought 538,100 tickets to see J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost since it opened on 10.18 compared to 30.7 million tickets to see Gravity. It’s also been reported that Gravity has racked up $500 million worldwide.

It’s been explained over and over that Gravity and All Is Lost are essentially the same film. A solo traveller without the usual resources trying to survive against oppressive odds. Gravity is a masterful achievement as far as it goes — an audacious technical feat and a first-rate thrill ride. But All Is Lost is just as audacious is its own way, and is much deeper, more “personal” and far more poignant than Gravity. The answer is that most people don’t want a one-character movie about an old guy on a damaged sailing craft, etc. They want a younger woman tumbling head over heels and their CG 3D thrills and the visual landscape of space and so on. No argument, no dithering — it’s what they want.

As Brevet points out, All Is Lost is (a) losing theatres and (b) is set to debut VOD on 1.21.14 followed by the DVD and Bluray preem on 2.11.14. The problem is that All Is Lost demands to be seen on a big screen in a packed theatre with everyone giving it their full attention. Home viewing means the usual kitchen and bathroom breaks plus texting at the same time plus petting your dog and cat plus impulsive bouts of affection with your girlfriend plus doing the wash and answering the door when the Fed Ex guy arrives or dealing with that creepy beardo upstairs asking “is that your cat?”

“Where Gravity features too much comforting dialogue, All is Lost features virtually none,” Brevet writes. “Where Gravity features a great [if] intrusive score, All Is Lost features a score so subtle you hardly notice it. In fact, it’s amazing to me a film centered in space could actually be louder than one set in the midst of a storm in the middle of the ocean.”