After getting stranded on Mars in the new movie "The Martian," Mark Watney—played by Matt Damon—vows to "science the [expletive] out of" his attempt to extricate himself from the barren planet, and the dire conditions in which he finds himself.
That solemn promise, uttered with strange jocularity by Damon's character, becomes the modus operandi for "The Martian," a science fiction vehicle that almost prides itself on technical devotion to science. In a twist, the movie actually sheds itself of most of the special effects wizardry and suspension of disbelief that are the mother's milk of most sci-fi movies nowadays.
It's just one of several reasons why industry watchers have high hopes for the movie's box office earnings potential, notwithstanding the recent discovery of water on the Red Planet that has some viewing the timing of the movie's release with some suspicion. Whether by circumstance or design, "The Martian," which cost $108 million to make and is based on a 2011 book by Andy Weir, functions as a tribute to NASA and the extraterrestrial mission it's sought to fulfill since 1958.
At least a third of the film's action takes place at the space agency's headquarters, with NASA bureaucrats playing a prominent role in advancing the narrative.
So will audiences go for it, or might they be put off by what one critic called the "spookily appropriate timing" of the movie's release and NASA's big discovery on Mars? Analysts noted that the movie was the top advance ticket seller on movie ticket website Fandango prior to its release—even before NASA dropped its Mars bombshell.
"When real life events coincide with and dovetail perfectly with the release of a film, it can serve to raise the level of awareness, and also enhance the desire for moviegoers to see that particular film," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. He predicted "The Martian" would top the box office this weekend, with "strong buzz" likely to propel it to a take above $40 million.
"Given the pedigree of the film including the star power of Matt Damon and the vision of famed director Ridley Scott, who is in his wheelhouse in the sci-fi realm … all of these elements are coming together for one of those rare occasions when a non-sequel, non-franchise film will top the box office," he added.