Twentieth Century Fox's "The Martian" launched with an estimated $55 million weekend at the domestic box office, nearly matching the October record held by the 2013 stranded-in-space film "Gravity."
Director Ridley Scott's "The Martian," which cost $108 million to make, met the higher end of industry tracking expectations after facing little competition from other new releases. The film follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who, assumed to be dead, is alive and stranded alone on the hostile planet. Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover also star.
"The Martian" is Scott's second biggest opener behind "Hannibal" in 2001, and it's Damon's second biggest opener behind "The Bourne Ultimatum" in 2007. Depending on final numbers for Sunday ticket sales, due out Monday, "The Martian" might inch past the $55.8 million opening of "Gravity."
"We were conservative in our estimates so coming in at $55 million was awesome," said Chris Aronson, Fox's head of domestic distribution. "I think it's a movie that has an incredible beating heart and soul to it. It's what movies are all about."
Audiences for "The Martian" skewed mostly male (56%) and older than 25 (72%), and 3-D ticket sales accounted for 46% of ticket revenue in the U.S. and Canada.
The film scored strong grades from moviegoers, who gave it an A average, according to audience polling firm CinemaScore; 94% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review.
"The combination of critical support and positive audience reaction is so rare but when you get it, you've got a hit," Aronson said. "I think this film is just going to play and play."
Such a strong opening and positive reviews will help give Fox a boost at the box office.
Last year, the studio finished on top with a domestic total of $1.79 billion. Though not an industry record, it was Fox's best tally in the U.S. and Canada, not adjusting for inflation. This year, however, Fox is in fourth place, according to film research firm Rentrak.
Overseas, "The Martian" made $45.2 million in 49 markets.
The animated comedy "Hotel Transylvania 2," last weekend's No. 1 film, dropped to second after adding $33 million.
The Sony Pictures Animation sequel, which cost about $80 million to make, has collected about $90.5 million domestically to date.
Lionsgate's "Sicario" surged 603% after expanding to wide release in its third weekend. The film nabbed the No. 3 spot with $12.1 million.
The Denis Villeneuve-directed film follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) after she is drawn into a drug-war operation on the U.S.-Mexico border.
To date, it's made about $15.1 million. It has also earned strong word of mouth, scoring 93% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and an A-minus CinemaScore.
In its second weekend, Warner Bros.' "The Intern" finished in fourth after adding $11.6 million. Its domestic haul to date is $36.5 million.
The film, which cost about $40 million to make, is the latest from director Nancy Meyers ("It's Complicated"). It follows Jules (Anne Hathaway), the young founder of an Internet start-up, after she hires a 70-year-old intern (Robert De Niro).
Fox's young adult adaptation sequel "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" maintained its spot in the top five after its third weekend at the box office. It added $7.7 million, bringing its total in the U.S. and Canada to $63.2 million.
Though no other new films opened in wide release, Sony's TriStar label released "The Walk" in Imax and other select large-format theaters on Wednesday. The movie, which cost $35 million to make, follows French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he walks the void between the World Trade Center towers in New York.
"The Walk" finished at No. 12 this weekend after making $1.6 million Friday through Sunday, according to studio estimates, and nearly $2 million total since it opened Wednesday. Tracking had initially suggested an opening of up to $3 million but the forecast shifted going into the weekend.
The intent of this type of rollout is to build buzz. In this case, the strategy is based on the strong visual components of the movie — the tightrope walk across the twin towers in "The Walk" — that are more spectacular in Imax 3-D.
"Word of mouth is the best possible marketing," said Rory Bruer, Sony's head of domestic distribution. "Having 'The Walk' in early release with Imax is setting it up perfectly for next week when it opens wide."
Critics have praised "The Walk" for its visual effects since the film premiered at the New York Film Festival last weekend. To date, it has racked up a strong 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"We've been working very diligently to build this film and previews we had this week in Imax are really going to help it," Bruer added.
"Everest," which took a similar strategy to "The Walk," came in at seventh in its third weekend, adding $5.5 million. The film, about an infamous 1996 expedition on the world's highest mountain, has made about $33.2 million at the domestic box office.
In limited release, Lionsgate's "Freeheld" grossed $40,000 in five locations, a per screen average of $8,000. Fox Searchlight's documentary "He Named Me Malala," directed by David Guggenheim, opened strong with $56,000 in just four locations, a per screen average of $14,000.
Year-to-date, the box office is up 6.5%.
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