Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., aided by the strength of its current movie, "The China Syndrome," is headed toward "clearly the second best year in the company's history," Francis T. Vincent Jr., president and chief executive officer, said today.

The projection, he said, is based on "very successful" earnings for the fiscal third quarter and nine months ended April 1. Nevertheless, Vincent said, earnings during fiscal 1979 are running short of earnings in fiscal 1978-a record year that was largely the product of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the largest money-making film ever for Columbia Pictures.

"Because 'Close Encounters' was so spectacularly successful, fiscal 1978 has become impossible to beat," said Vincent, who left the Securities and Exchange Commission to take over Columbia last summer.

For the nine months, the company's net income is expected to be about $30 million, or between $3.06 and $3.11 a share, compared to net income of $45.5 million, or $4.92 a share in the year earlier period before a $7.3 million tax credit.

Revenue for Columbia Pictures is derived about 75 percent from film entertainment, including movies, television programs and commercials, 15 percent from records and 10 percent from amusement games.

Vincent joined Columbia Pictures last July. A former security official, he became Columbia's chief executive following internal squabbles at Columbia Pictures' President David Begelman.

"Columbia Pictures is stable and calm at the moment," said Vincent. "The exective shuffling that Wall Street anticipated would begin when I arrived hasn't happened," he noted.