Matt Damon’s ‘The Martian’ Blasts Off With ‘Gravity’-Defying $18 Million at Box Office

Ridley Scott’s space saga is orbiting north of $50 million for Fox and threatening to break the record for best October opening

Last Updated: October 4, 2015 @ 3:38 PM

Matt Damon and “The Martian” launched with an impressive $18 million at the box office Friday, and the Ridley Scott-directed space saga’s orbit will take it north of $50 million in its first weekend for Twentieth Century Fox.

The PG-13-rated “The Martian” will take the No. 1 position away from Sony’s animated “Hotel Transylvania 2,” and has a shot at overtaking the $55.8 million debut of “Gravity” on this weekend two years ago as the biggest ever in October. That Alfonso Cuaron-directed space epic took in $17.4 million on its first Friday for Warner Bros.

The starpower of the lead actor and director drove the big first day for “The Martian,” along with terrific reviews and the serendipitous discovery by NASA scientists this week of water on Mars, which generated huge media buzz and sent the film into the social media stratosphere. Comments by Damon suggesting gay actors are better off staying in the closet, which drew fire earlier in the week, didn’t seem to hurt.

Its chances of blasting past the record were helped by first-night audiences, who gave “The Martian” an “A” CinemaScore, which should drive positive word of mouth on Saturday and Sunday. Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena and Chiwetel Ejiofor co-star in the tale of an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet, drawn from Andy Weir’s novel.

“The Martian” will rank among the biggest October openings even if it doesn’t catch “Gravity,” and will easily top the $47.5 million first weekend of Christopher Nolan‘s “Interstellar” last November. Fox had it in 3,826 theaters, the widest rollout ever for a live-action October release.

More importantly for Fox, “The Martian” has set course for major profitability, given its $109 million production budget, and the attention its box-office breakout will bring shouldn’t hurt its awards chances, either.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Lionsgate’s R-rated drug war saga “Sicario,” was headed for a better-than-expected $11.5 million weekend after taking in $4.3 million for third place behind “Hotel Transylvania 2” on Friday. The Sony Animation family film was holding well and is on pace to top $30 million in its second weekend and its domestic total is over $90 million.

The gritty thriller “Sicario” stars Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin and expanded from 59 theaters to 2,620 in its third weekend of release. It has award aspirations as well, and its glossy 92 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes was echoed by first-night audiences who gave it a “A-” CinemaScore.

Sony’s “The Walk,” from director Robert Zemeckis, opened Wednesday and has generated more than $1 million from 448 Imax and premium large-format theaters in a bid to build moviegoer interest prior to the Oct. 9 wide release. The PG-rated thriller stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as French artist Philippe Petit, who walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Warner Bros.’ “The Intern” and Fox’s “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” were in fourth and fifth place. The Robert DeNiro-Anne Hathaway comedy is heading for a $12 million second week while the young adult sci-fi tale starring Dylan O’Brien  is looking at a $7 million third weekend.