– Opening days after NASA announced findings showing water on Mars, "The Martian" soaked up moviegoers at the box office.

Ridley Scott's 3-D space epic touched down in theaters with a robust $55 million over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. The results again proved moviegoers' abiding thirst for space adventures, particularly ones that rely more on mathematics than monsters.

The 20th Century Fox release, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on Mars, exceeded expectations to nearly rank as the top October debut ever. The estimated North American opening of "The Martian" surpassed that of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" ($47.5 million) and virtually equaled the debut of Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" ($55.8 million).

It's Scott's second best opening behind 2001's "Hannibal" and Damon's second best after 2007's "Bourne Ultimatum."

Made for $108 million, "The Martian" received a publicity boost when NASA announced it had found evidence of water on the surface of Mars. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel, "The Martian" — more "science-fact" than science fiction — relishes pragmatic scientific problem solving and NASA's spirit of exploration.

"What separates this movie — it has the backdrop of science — but all of the science is presented in a way that's very approachable for all," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for Fox.

Last week's box-office champ, "Hotel Transylvania 2," slid to second with an estimated $33 million.

Estimated weekend ticket sales:

1. "The Martian," $55 million.

2. "Hotel Transylvania 2," $33 million.

3. "Sicario," $12.1 million.

4. "The Intern," $11.6 million.

5. "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials," $7.7 million.

6. "Black Mass," $5.9 million.

7. "Everest," $5.5 million.

8. "The Visit," $3.9 million.

9. "War Room," $2.8 million.

10. "The Perfect Guy," $2.4 million.

Associated Press