'The Martian' triumphs with $55 million debut

Mon Oct 5, 2015 1:01am EDT
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By Brent Lang

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "The Martian" blasted off with a massive $55 million this weekend, nearly surpassing another space-based adventure, "Gravity," as the highest-grossing October debut in history.

The Ridley Scott release was bolstered by rapturous reviews, with critics calling the picture among the director's best and heaping praise on Matt Damon's performance as an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet.

It marks the second best launch of Scott's career, behind only "Hannibal's" $58 million debut, and the second best premiere for Damon, trailing "The Bourne Ultimatum's" $69.3 million bow.

"It's going to hold up really well," said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "It's got everything. It's got suspense, action, heart, and humor, and the ending is really satisfying. People will walk out of the theater and talk it up to their friends."

Twentieth Century Fox backed the $108 million production and pushed the film out to 3,831 theaters. It was a blessed rollout. In addition to the strong notices, media reports about the possible discovery of water on Mars kept the distant planet front-and-center in people's minds.

"You can't make this stuff up," said Chris Aronson, Fox's domestic distribution chief. "The fact that there was the announcement on the same week as our film just excites people. Human beings are just interested in other worldly things right now."

Going into the weekend, most analysts expected the film would do $45 million worth of business. Its numbers fall just short of "Gravity's" $55.8 million debut, but there were a number of factors that prevented "The Martian" from toppling that picture.

"Gravity" had the benefit of several Imax locations, which were being held exclusively for Sony's "The Walk," depriving "The Martian" of some healthy surcharges. It did get a nice boost in 3D screenings, which accounted for 46% of receipts, and premium large formats, which made up 11% of the total.   Continued...

Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain arrives for the UK premiere of "The Martian" at Leicester Square in London. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth