There’s an appeal with works in the survival genre that automatically give it an exciting feeling in that the audience can never rest easy knowing that something terrible is eventually going to happen to the main character.
The Martian goes beyond leveraging that appeal by enhancing the realism through giving well-thought out explanations (which checks out with real science as an added bonus) and also by creating a very epic setting. The icing on the cake though is Matt Damon’s performance as Mark Whatney, which is nothing less than excellent.
P.S. Between Mad Max: Fury Road and this movie, I’m rooting for The Martian to win Best Picture.