Forecast: Can 'The Martian' Top 'Gravity's October Record?

by Brad Brevet

October 1, 2015

You're going to hear references to Gravity a lot this weekend. One critic says Robert Zemeckis' The Walk "does what Gravity did for outer space" while Ridley Scott's The Martian is not only an outer space-set drama, but could possibly challenge Gravity's October opening weekend record, which was set this same weekend two years ago. However, those Gravity references may be short-lived if neither film is able to live up to the success the seven-time Oscar winner found two years ago.

We'll begin with The Martian, a film based on Andy Weir's highly successful, self-published sci-fi novel, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars. I caught the film at the Toronto Film Festival and could immediately tell it was going to be a moneymaker. It's a crowd-pleaser of the highest sort, but that $55.7 million October opening record set by Gravity looms large.

In The Martian's favor is a massive marketing campaign, great reviews, higher ticket prices and 256 more theaters than Gravity, which opened in 3,575 theaters for a $15,604 per theater average. The Martian, however, isn't the 3-D spectacle Gravity was and it runs nearly an hour longer, which means fewer showtimes. Caveats considered, expect The Martian to fall shy of the October record, targeting an opening closer to Interstellar's numbers last November, around $50 million. Obviously, it's still an impressive start and it should have some long legs and low week-to-week drops.

As for The Walk, it's going to fall short of the impressive, limited IMAX and premium large format release of Universal's Everest two weeks ago. Opening on Wednesday in 448 theaters, The Walk managed $248,194, $77,000 less than Everest earned from 481 theaters during its Thursday night previews before playing in 545 theaters on its way to a $7.2 million opening weekend. In all fairness, this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison as a Wednesday opening isn't quite the same as Thursday night preshows, and perhaps studios will need to take that into consideration with this kind of targeted release in the future.

Having seen the film a couple nights ago, I can tell you The Walk has an impressive final 20-30 minutes as whimsy finally gives way to spectacle. Is that enough for audiences to recommend it to their friends? Some have told me they felt the marketing makes it almost look like a parody of a film. Another person told me the trailer looked more like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch than a preview for an actual movie. Then you have reports of audience members vomiting following its New York Film Festival premiere, which seems right in line with the director's intention of giving the audience "the feeling of vertigo". This could either attract or repel an audience and perhaps my prediction will be low, but for now I'm seeing a weekend around $2.4 million ($5,500 PTA) before it expands nationwide next week.

Next we come to the best film in theaters now, Sicario, expanding into 2,620 theaters this weekend after averaging $66,881 and $29,107 per theater in limited release over the last couple of weekends respectively. That's a huge leap in theaters for the Lionsgate release and finding a suitable title for comparison is tough.

The most obvious title, based on the nature of the film itself, is Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, but even with five Oscar nominations it still never saw its way into more than 1,742 theaters at its peak. In its second weekend, back in 2001, it expanded from four theaters into 1,510 and brought in $15.5 million ($10,276 PTA) and perhaps that's where we should start. Another comparison I've seen is to David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which satisfies the more violent aspects of Sicario. It played in limited theaters before expanding to 1,340 in its second weekend back in 2005, bringing in $8.1 million ($6,047 PTA).

As much as I'd like to go high, because I love this movie and you should see it on the biggest screen possible, a $4,800 per theater average seems about right for a three-day total around $12.5 million. The higher theater count brings the average down a bit and this is a number that seems a safe bet.

Looking at the holdovers from last weekend, Hotel Transylvania 2 should continue to improve on its predecessor as it has had higher daily totals than the first film every step of the way. Hotel Transylvania dropped 36.4% its second weekend and I'm expecting the sequel to probably drop a little more if only because it opened a bit higher, resulting in a $30 million sophomore session.

As for Nancy Meyers' The Intern, it has pretty much been on par with previous Meyers efforts, and should drop around 35% this weekend for a second weekend total of $11.5 million.

I am curious to see how Eli Roth's The Green Inferno performs this weekend. Last weekend the film brought in $3.5 million from 1,540 theaters. A solid result for a horror film centered on cannibalism, homaging the work of '80s Italian exploitation films, Cannibal Holocaust at the top of that list. The big question mark will be that "C-" CinemaScore, typically a grade that results in larger second weekend drops, but that very well could have come from audiences that didn't quite know what they were in for and not necessarily the audience Roth and Blumhouse were targeting. Anything better than a 50% drop should probably be looked at as a success.

Also opening this weekend The Weinstein Co. will finally bring Shanghai starring John Cusack and Gong Li to 103 theaters after a long delay. The Ellen Page and Julianne Moore feature Freeheld will get a limited release in five theaters before expanding next weekend and Searchlight releases the documentary He Named Me Malala into four theaters.

Finally, FUNimation's Attack on Titan: Part 1 opened on Wednesday in 264 theaters, besting The Walk with $258,794. I'm not bold enough to predict it will crack the top ten, but I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised.

Below are this weekend's predictions.

  • The Martian (3,831 theaters) - $49,803,000
  • Hotel Transylvania 2 (3,754 theaters) - $30,047,016
  • Sicario (2,620 theaters) - $12,576,000
  • The Intern (3,320 theaters) - $11,523,720
  • Everest (3,010 theaters) - $7,284,200
  • Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (3,319 theaters) - $6,707,699
  • Black Mass (2,768 theaters) - $5,295,184
  • The Visit (2,293 theaters) - $3,737,590
  • War Room (1,746 theaters) - $2,842,488
  • The Walk (448 theaters) - $2,464,000

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