LOS ANGELES • The Martian blasted off with a massive US$55 million (S$78.8 million) over the 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 US$58-million debut in 2001, and the second-best premiere for Damon, trailing The Bourne Ultimatum's US$69.3- million bow in 2007.
"It's going to hold up really well," said Mr Phil Contrino, vice- president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "It's got everything. It's got suspense, action, heart and humour, and the ending is really satisfying. People will walk out of the theatre and talk it up to their friends."
Twentieth Century Fox backed the US$108-million production and pushed the film out to 3,831 theatres. 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-centre in people's minds.
"You can't make this stuff up," said Mr 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 US$45-million worth of business. Its numbers fall just short of Gravity's US$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 3-D screenings, which accounted for 46 per cent of receipts, and premium large formats, which made up 11 per cent of the total.