Box Office: 'The Martian' Just Shy of 'Gravity' With Powerful $55M U.S. Launch

Ridley Scott's space epic also dominated overseas with $45.2 million; Robert Zemeckis' 'The Walk' is soft in limited Imax debut, while 'Sicario' races up the chart to No. 3.

Ridley Scott's 3D space epic The Martian rocketed to a $55 million opening in North America, coming in ahead of expectations and almost beating Gravity to nab the top October opening of all time, according to Sunday estimates.

The Martian, from 20th Century Fox, continues Hollywood's love affair with space, and comes exactly two years after Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity opened to a record $55.8 million. Last November, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar debuted just north of $47 million. If The Martian does better than expected Sunday, it could beat  Gravity and become the new October record-holder.

Overseas, The Martian also placed No. 1, blasting off with $45.2 million from 49 markets, or 40 percent of the marketplace, for a global debut of $100.2 million. It soared to $10.3 million in the U.K., the top showing ever for Scott and star Matt Damon, and is pacing well ahead of Gravity and Interstellar in numerous markets.

The other big headline internationally was Lost in Hong Kong, which grossed $41 million in China to clear the $200 mark at the Chinese box office in just 10 days.

Drew Goddard wrote the adapted script for The Martian based on Andy Weir's best-selling book about a NASA astronaut left for dead on Mars. The movie, costing $108 million to produce, is a critical darling and earned a glowing A CinemaScore from audiences. Damon stars opposite Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie.

The filmmakers worked closely with NASA throughout the making of The Martian. And last week, just as the movie prepared to open, the space agency — which hopes to have a man on Mars in the 2030s — held an an urgent press conference to announce it has confirmed the discovery of liquid salt water on the red planet (NASA says the timing was a coincidence).

"Science is at the heart of The Martian and is presented in a very accessible way," said Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson. "This movie has the potential to get people excited about our space program again."

Males made up 56 percent of ticket buyers, while 72 percent of the audience was over the age of 25. Roughly 45 percent saw it in 3D. The Martian's performance is no small feat considering its running time of 141 minutes (Gravity was 91 minutes), and the fact that it didn't have a berth in Imax theaters. Gravity and Interstellar both saw big returns from Imax.

Instead, Imax was committed to an exclusive run of Robert Zemeckis' The Walk, starring 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.

The Walk, playing in 365 Imax theaters and 83 PLF locations not carrying The Martian, had trouble finding its footing, grossing a meek $1.6 million to come in No. 11 and putting its five-day debut at $2 million. Heading into the weekend, tracking suggested the $35 million film would take in $3 million for the three-day weekend.

Sony/TriStar used the exclusive Imax run to highlight the film's 3D format and to build word-of-mouth in advance of The Walk's nationwide opening on Oct. 9. Two weeks ago, Universal's Everest earned $7.2 million when debuting exclusively in Imax and PLF theaters.

"We believe so much in this film," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "We will be heavily marketing the film this week to promote its wide release. That's what it has always been about. It's all about the long haul for us."

The 375 PLF theater operators carrying The Martian instead of The Walk were no doubt happy with their decision. PLF theaters were running at capacity, with The Martian generating a total of $6 million, or 11 percent of the total opening gross.

Elsewhere, Denis Villeneuve's critically acclaimed Sicario expanded nationwide with gusto, grossing $12.1 million from 2,620 theaters to place No. 3 behind The Martian and holdover Hotel Transylvania 2. From Lionsgate, the drug cartel drama nabbed an A- CinemaScore and stars Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin.

Sicario took in another $3.3 million internationally for a foreign cume of $10 million and global haul of $25.1 million (its domestic total is $15.1 million).

Sony's Hotel Transylvania sequel remains a winner in its second outing. The animated film took in $33 million for a 10-day domestic total of $90.5 million after falling a scant 32 percent. Overseas, it grossed another $20.4 million from 50 markets for a foreign cume of $59.8 million and global total of $150.3 million. It's especially huge in Latin America, where it came in ahead of The Martian in Mexico, among other countries in the region.

Nancy Meyers' The Intern also held nicely in its second weekend as well, grossing $11.6 million for a North American tally of $36.5 million for Warner Bros. The Anne Hathaway-Robert De Niro comedy took in $15.7 million from 57 markets overseas for a foreign cume of $35.6 million and global total of $72.1 million.

Fox sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials rounded out the top five, grossing $7.7 million in its third outing for a domestic cume of $63.2 million. Globally, the movie jumped the $200 million mark after grossing another $13.7 million internationally from 58 markets for a foreign cume of $147.8 million and worldwide tally of $211 million through Sunday.

Johnny Depp's Black Mass placed No. 6 in is third weekend with $5.9 million for a domestic total of $52.5 million.

Everest followed with $5.5 million in its second weekend in wide release for a North American cume of $33.2 million. It's a far bigger player overseas, where it grossed $16.4 million from 65 markets to jump the $100 million mark internationally. Through Sunday, the film's worldwide total is $136.5 million.

New openings at the U.S. specialty box office included Davis Guggenheim's acclaimed documentary He Named Me Malala, the story of Malala Yousafzai, who became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history after she was shot by the Taliban for insisting upon an education. The film opened to $56,000 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a solid location average of $14,000. Next weekend, Fox Searchlight expands Malala  into more than 400 theaters.

LGBT drama Freeheld, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, also began its platform run, albeit to tepid results. The Lionsgate title grossed $40,000 from five theaters for a location average of $8,000.

The Metropolitan Opera's The Met: Live in HD kicked off its 10th season with Saturday's live transmission of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which earned a strong $2 million from 900 screens.

Oct. 4, 12:15 p.m. Updated with foreign numbers.

Weekend Box Office 10/4/15

Rentrak Actuals for Weekend of 10/4/15
Weekend Cume Theaters Week
1. The Martian $54.3M $54.3M 3831 1
2. Hotel Transylvania 2 $33.2M $90.7M 3754 2
3. Sicario $12.1M $15.1M 2620 3
4. The Intern $11.7M $36.6M 3320 2
5. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials $7.8M $63.4M 3319 3
6. Black Mass $5.8M $52.5M 2768 3
7. Everest $5.6M $33.3M 3009 3
8. The Visit $3.9M $57.7M 2296 4
9. War Room $2.8M $60.6M 1746 6
10. The Perfect Guy $2.4M $52.6M 1364 4