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Box Office: ‘The Martian’ to Blast Off With $45 Million

Ridley Scott blasts audiences into the far reaches of space, while Robert Zemeckis propels moviegoers high above the streets of New York in a box office face off between two of cinema’s leading auteurs.

The main event is likely to be Scott’s “The Martian,” a 3D action-adventure that finds Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on the red planet. It’s a harsh, unforgiving terrain that may seem like a welcome refuge for an actor who is currently being lambasted in the media for suggesting gay actors shouldn’t discuss their sexuality.

Despite Damon’s gaffe-plagued promotional tour, his star power and strong reviews should lift “The Martian” above the fray. Critics are calling the film a funny, thrilling ride, and a return to form for Scott after “The Counselor” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” fell flat. It should pull in $45 million when it debuts in 3,826 locations. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind the film, is being more conservative and pegging an opening in the low $40 million range, while some rivals are predicting the film could climb as high as $50 million. “The Martian,” which boasts a supporting cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Chiwetel Ejiofor, cost $109 million to produce.

With “The Martian” dominating the domestic market, Zemeckis’ “The Walk” is planning a limited, Imax-intensive debut. The idea is to build word-of-mouth instead of starting out of the gate in the maximum number of theaters during a time of year when the market is over-saturated with smart, adult-oriented fare. It’s a strategy that was recently employed by “Everest” with mixed results. The mountain climbing adventure pulled in a smashing $7 million when it rolled out on Imax and premium-format screens two weeks ago, but logged a disappointing $13.2 million when it expanded to more theaters the following week.

The Walk,” a fact-based look at Philippe Petit’s high-wire jaunt between the Twin Towers, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has loyal fans, but hasn’t established himself as a box office draw in his own right. Filmed for an economical $35 million, “The Walk” gets a jump on the weekend by debuting on Wednesday. It should bring in $3 million to $4 million from roughly 440 Imax 3D and large format theaters over its first five days of release. Backed by Sony Pictures and its TriStar label, “The Walk” goes wide on Oct. 9.

Then there’s Lionsgate’s “Sicario,” the gritty drug war thriller that’s attracted strong reviews for its cinematography and star Emily Blunt’s work as a tenacious FBI agent. The film has done impressive business in limited release, racking up $2.5 million over its initial two weeks on screen. The film will move from 59 theaters to roughly 2,500 locations on Friday, where it should earn $9 million, setting itself up for a healthy run through the fall awards season.

Holdovers like last weekend’s champ “Hotel Transylvania 2” and “The Intern” should do solid business, pulling in roughly $28 million and $8.5 million respectively.

In the indie space, Lionsgate will debut the gay rights drama “Freeheld” in five locations in New York and Los Angeles; Fox Searchlight will field “He Named Me Malala,” a documentary about children’s rights activist and Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai; and the Weinstein Company will debut “Shanghai,” an oft-delayed murder mystery with John Cusack in 100 theaters that was originally slated to hit theaters in 2010.

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