Box-Office Preview: 'Martian' Set to Rocket to No. 1; 'The Walk' Opens in Imax

Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
'The Martian'

Elsewhere, 'Sicario' expands nationwide, while 'Freeheld' and 'He Named Me Malala' open at the specialty box office as awards season heats up.

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.