Box Office: Matt Damon’s ‘The Martian’ Blasting Off with $50 Million

Mars fever is hitting U.S. theaters with Matt Damon’s “The Martian” heading for an opening weekend of about $50 million at 3,286 locations, according to early estimates Friday.

20th Century Fox’s release, which carries the fortuitous coincidence of  NASA’s recent discovery of water on Mars, is dominating moviegoing. Its opening day looks to take in $17 million, including $2.5 million at Thursday night previews — far above the $1.4 million from “Gravity” two years ago and the biggest preview gross since “Straight Outta Compton” pulled in $4.9 million in mid-August.

Ridley Scott’s action-adventure, starring Damon as an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet, is launching amid strong reviews following last month’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak, said that the initial “Martian” performance is impressive on several counts.

“Despite not being a sequel or a franchise film, it has truly captured the imagination of audiences and has clearly benefitted from the perfectly timed and thus serendipitous NASA news related to the discoveries on Mars just this week,” he said. “Plus you have the Matt Damon drawing power, plus for the true film fans, director Ridley Scott perfectly in his wheelhouse (‘Alien,’ ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Prometheus’).”

Dergarbedian noted that “The Martian” may wind up as one of the biggest October debuts ever. “Gravity” has the month’s top opening with $55.8 million, followed by 2011’s “Paranormal Activity 3” with $52.6 million, 2010’s “Jackass 3D” with $50.4 million and 2013’s “Taken 2” with $49. 5 million.

“The Martian” had been expected to pull in around $45 million this weekend with Fox’s forecasts in recent days staying  at the conservative end of estimates in the low $40s range. The film cost $109 million to produce and boasts a supporting cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Pre-sales for “The Martian,” based on Andy Weir’s novel, have been topping “Gravity,” which launched on the same weekend in 2013.

“The Martian” has generated a 93% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Last weekend’s winner, “Hotel Transylvania 2,” should do solid business for Sony. It’s expected to pull in roughly $28 million in the wake of its record-breaking September opening of $48.5 million.

The animated comedy sequel has generated $57.5 million in its first week in the U.S.

Lionsgate’s “Sicario” will expand to a wide audience and is expected to finish the weekend in the $8 million to $10 million range at 2,620 sites. “Sicario” has grossed $3 million in limited release since its Sept. 18 opening.

Sony’s “The Walk,” from director Robert Zemeckis, opened Wednesday and has generated $422,274 in 448 Imax and premium large-format theaters in its first two days in a bid to build moviegoer interest prior to the Oct. 9 wide release. Forecasts have pegged “The Walk” for a $3 million take in its first five days in U.S. theaters.

The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as French artist Philippe Petit, who walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

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