Hollywood's love affair with space continues this weekend as Ridley Scott's star-studded The Martian, starring Matt Damon, blasts off in 3,826 North American theaters.
While the movie will have no trouble topping the chart, the big question is how much it will earn. Fox is suggesting a debut in the low $40 million range, while others have it launching between $45 million and $50 million. On the same weekend two years ago, Alfonso Cuaron's space epic Gravity, facing far less competition, opened to a better-than-expected $55.8 million. In November 2014, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar debuted to $47.5 million domestically.
Gravity and Interstellar had the benefit of a berth in Imax locations, boosting the bottom line. The Martian isn't playing in Imax, since Imax is instead committed to an exclusive run of Robert Zemeckis' The Walk. The Martian is, however, playing in more than 350 premium large-format theaters, a rival to Imax. Both films are playing up their 3D format.
The Martian, currently sporting a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is based on Andy Weir's best-selling book about an astronaut left for dead on Mars. Drew Goddard wrote the adapted script. Damon stars opposite Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie.
Costing $108 million to make, The Martian is aiming for both commercial success and awards attention after playing at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. It's also hoping for the same strong legs that Gravity enjoyed.
Ditto for The Walk, which rolls out in roughly 440 Imax theaters and a relatively small number of PLF screens not carrying the The Martian.
The Walk, kicking off the New York Film Festival last weekend, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as French artist Philippe Petit, who gained fame after he walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Sony is billing the film as a love letter to the Twin Towers, as well as to 1970s New York and Paris. The Walk is based on Petit's book "To Reach the Clouds" and was adapted for the big screen by Zemeckis and Christopher Browne.
Sony is touting the fact that The Walk is rated PG, meaning it is fine for kids. Also starring Ben Kingsley, the movie's net budget was $35 million.
By opening The Walk first in Imax and PLF locations, Sony hopes to whip up strong word of mouth before the film opens nationwide Oct. 8. Universal employed the same tactic for Everest, to mixed results. As of now, The Walk boasts an 82 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Everest grossed roughly $7 million when opening exclusively in Imax and PLF theaters; The Walk, which will likely play older, is eyeing $3 million.
Denis Villeneuve's critically acclaimed Sicario expands nationwide this weekend into roughly 2,500 theaters after soaring at the specialty box office. From Lionsgate, the drug cartel drama stars Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin, and should gross $8 million to $10 million when rolling out everywhere.
New titles at the specialty box office include high-profile documentary He Named Me Malala, from Fox Searchlight. Lionsgate opens LGBT drama Freeheld, starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon and Steve Carell, in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles.
Click through to see Matt Damon through the years:
Box-office preview: 'Martian' set to rocket to No. 1; 'The Walk' opens in Imax
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Actor Matt Damon attends the 'Project Greenlight' event at Boulevard3 on November 7, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Matt Damon, second from left, in "Good Will Hunting."
Matt Damon with Gretchen Mol in "Rounders."
Matt Damon with Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting."
Matt Damon in "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
Matt Damon in "The Informant."
Matt Damon in "The Informant."
Morgan Freeman with Matt Damon in "Invictus."
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attend the 'Project Greenlight' event at Boulevard3 on November 7, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08: Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso with his mother Nancy Carlsson-Paige are seen on October 08, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Damon seen at LAX on September 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 29: (L-R) Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso sighting at Marco Polo Airport on September 29, 2014 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/GC Images)
US actor Matt Damon boards a taxi boat at the Cipriani hotel on September 27, 2014 in Venice where US actor George Clooney and British fiancee, Amal Alamuddin celebrate their wedding. George Clooney has said goodbye to bachelorhood in Venice with a stag party at his favourite restaurant with Hollywood chums, and was gearing up for a day of glamourous pre-wedding celebrations. The actor had swept into the floating city yesterday with his British fiancee Amal Alamuddin on a watertaxi dubbed 'Amore', zipping up the Grand Canal to cheers from fans at the start of nuptials set to draw out over the weekend. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Actor and co-founder of Water.org Matt Damon speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), on September 23, 2014 in New York City. The annual meeting, established in 2005 by President Clinton, convenes global leaders to discuss solutions to world problems. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 27: Matt Damon is seen in Los Angeles on June 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Pixplus/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 10: Matt Damon is seen at Boston Logan airport on June 10, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Stickman/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 10: Actor Matt Damon attends the Mass General Hospital Cancer Center's 7th annual 'the one hundred' Event at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel on June 10, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 15: Matt Damon attends an NBA playoff game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on May 15, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 06: Matt Damon is seen leaving Katsuya restaurant on March 06, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 12: Actor Matt Damon and his wife Lucinda Damon attend the 'Monuments Men' : Premiere at Cinema UGC Normandie on February 12, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 12: Matt Damon attends 'Monuments Men' Paris premiere at Cinema UGC Normandie on February 12, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julien M. Hekimian/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 09: L-R Fabio Fazio, George Clooney and Matt Damon attend 'Che Tempo Che Fa' TV Show on February 9, 2014 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 09: Matt Damon attends 'Che Tempo Che Fa' TV Show on February 9, 2014 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 08: Actor Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso attend 'The Monuments Men' premiere during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Berlinale Palast on February 8, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Anita Bugge/WireImage)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 08: Matt Damon attends 'The Monuments Men' press conference during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 8, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Luca Teuchmann/Getty Images)