September 2015 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
September 3, 2015

Hey! They made it to the merge!

1. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (September 18th)

In the sense of having a devoted audience ready to come back for seconds, Maze Runner 2 is probably the most anticipated movie of the month, but it's also tough to peg down just right. The first film was of course surprising as both a strong opener ($32 million) and finisher ($102 million, with decent legs), and its target audience of fervent Young Adult readers seems to have received it positively. On the other hand, this year has given us YA follow-ups that underperformed both somewhat mildly (Insurgent) as well as much more noticeably (Paper Towns, a de facto sequel to The Fault in Our Stars). Rejecting the guidance of these examples, I'm thinking the Maze Runner sequel will play just a little higher than the first film, and the studio certainly seems to be doing everything right: even if they've lost the sense of mystery of the first film, the trailers are generally intriguing, the advertising is prominent but not offensively omnipresent, star Dylan O'Brien appears to have gained many more fans in the preceding 365 days, and the release date is lurched smack dab in the middle of a pack of films mostly aimed at other audience groups, so competition for teens shouldn't be too much of a problem. I think this franchise can win two Septembers in a row. And speaking of the sequel's title, yes, they're running again, but are we guaranteed a maze?

Opening weekend: $40 million / Total gross: $120 million

2. Hotel Transylvania 2 (September 25th)

It's clear that two sequels aimed at young audiences will battle each other for supremacy this month (with the Oscar-bait dramas acting as potential spoilers), but I'll take a risky gamble and say that the obvious frontrunner (Transylvania 2) will come in second, though it will be close. The first film was a strong breakout success three years back, with a $42 million opening and a $148 million total that blazed through the pre-Halloween days with its sanitized and relatively bloodless take on beloved horror film staples (if only they could get the rights to Jason and Freddy, too). While not spectacularly reviewed by any stretch of the imagination, Hotel Transylvania was well-liked enough that a sequel should be a slam-dunk. But the career of the franchise's public face, Adam Sandler, is currently at an unpredictable stage, with would-be sure things (Blended) underperforming, and another comedy aimed at children, Pixels, also pulling lower-than-expected numbers. The Sandler road company's all here (Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, and so on), the casting of Mel Brooks as Sandler's father is a memorable fact, and advertising has of course been bright, lively, and extremely seasonally-appropriate, so the numbers should still be strong (CGI movies like this have their floors, after all) - though I still think that Hotel Transylvania 2 will play more like a horror sequel in coming in somewhere under its original.

Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $115 million

3. Black Mass (September 18th)

The Oscar season starts at the Venice and Toronto festivals early in the month, but nationwide theaters have to wait until the 18th, with the presence of this film and several others being potent signifiers that awards forecasters are firmly back in business. Black Mass is headlined by a nearly-unrecognizable Johnny Depp, for whom this film marks perhaps the first step to an almost-cyclical career re-invention. And it couldn't come any sooner, either, a mere eight months after what was almost certainly Depp's very worst film, Mortdecai (although he's quite lucky that no one has seen it, so does it really exist?). The background intel on Black Mass seems promising enough: it is directed by Scott Cooper, helmer of the meaty, gritty Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, it is based on a still-living and notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger (apparently not his real first name), and it co-stars some choice supporting actors, like Benedict Cumberbatch (always an ex-mark for awards attention), S&M enthusiast Dakota Johnson, and the increasingly ubiquitous Corey Stoll and Joel Edgerton. In short, it looks like a reasonable launching pad for box office and critical success, and Depp definitely has a shot at an Oscar nomination, even if I don't think he'll go all the way and take it home this year (I'm betting on Eddie Redmayne again).

Opening weekend: $19 million / Total gross: $65 million

4. The Walk (September 30th)

The Walk and Everest seem like stylistically very different films, but it's interesting that these two tales of gut-wrenching human endurance are opening just about back-to-back this month. The Walk is a recreation of the most famous feat of stunt performer Philippe Pettit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who walked on a high-wire between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, an act which is sure to inspire a sustained 30-minute sequence of suspense late in the film, even if most of the running time will probably be spent on his presumably arduous prep work. Like the two films it's sandwiched in between on this list, The Walk comes with impeccable, awards-minded credentials, like director Robert Zemeckis and supporting actor Ben Kingsley. It headlines the New York Film Festival earlier that week, but the Wednesday opening is still odd. If reviews are strong and the film is properly portentous and suspenseful, it should have some solid legs, even if it doesn't win its weekend.

Opening weekend: $20 million (5-day) / Total gross: $65 million

5. Everest (September 18th)

This harrowing-looking drama is another gritty, adult-aimed film, in a month that's seriously making a play for that often-ignored demographic. There's a cheerful IMAX documentary of the same name that has so far grossed $87 million, but this film is about a tragic and ill-fated expedition from 1996 (google it if you want to know the ending). The actors - Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and John Hawkes among them - aren't huge box office draws, but their names help highlight the film, and there's some strong early buzz from festival screenings. Everest opens only in IMAX during its first week, and like a few other films this season, it should build on good legs for a long run. As odd as it is, there's a real chance that it won't outgross the Everest IMAX documentary, which has the advantage of having been playing somewhere or other for 17 years now.

Opening weekend (in wide release): $16 million / Total gross: $62 million

6. The Perfect Guy (September 11th)

This tawdry-looking crazy-ex-boyfriend thriller seems modeled - in casting, execution, advertising, and release date - on last year's No Good Deed, another Screen Gems title that opened on September's second weekend, and ended up with a remarkably strong #1 finish ($24 million) at that, especially given the reviews and time of year. Essentially every one of those factors are in play here yet again, and it helps that the film's trailer carries a particularly salacious money shot (the boogeyman's under the bed). Stars Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy, and Morris Chestnut may not be particular draws under all circumstances, but for this film and genre, they should do very well in getting the picture one of the month's stronger openings, even if the film won't really last well past weekend two.

Opening weekend: $23 million / Total gross: $49 million

7. The Intern (September 25th)

While all market research about me would probably say otherwise, writer-director Nancy Meyers is actually one of my favorite filmmakers. Her lengthy and acerbic big-star films about the lives of the casually upper-class have been consistently entertaining and slick fantasies for grown-ups, and for my money, her Something's Gotta Give (2003) is still one of the best romances of the past 15 years. The Intern marks a bit of a departure - the usual Meyers gloss is still there, but this tale of an older beacon of wisdom (Robert De Niro) and a young e-commerce founder-CEO (Anne Hathaway) who employs him, is not a love story, but more like a cross-generational bonding experience, reminding me somewhat of In Good Company, Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace's film of a similar theme. The Intern will likely get decent reviews, but it's difficult to say if that lack of a romantic angle will hurt the numbers somewhat. Most Meyers pictures have also more naturally found their niche in December, a release date I think The Intern would have been better suited for. Still, I'm grateful for another one of her films whenever they may come.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $45 million

8. Captive (September 18th)

Another violent true story (a common thread in the month's second half), Captive is a dramatization based on Brian Nichols, a convict who murdered four people as he escaped from his courtroom trial for rape in 2005, and who willingly surrendered himself to the police after an emotionally and spiritually transformative night with a woman he had taken hostage. The story's religious angle seems a natural fit for the growing Christian cinema market, but the film has a major studio sheen, and name actors - David Oyelowo, most recently of Selma, and Kate Mara, who might be surprised to find this film literally giving her last release, Fantastic Four, a run for its money. I assume that at least some of Captive's marketing will be geared directly to religious audiences, so its opening should be strong enough, and if reviews are good, it might play well for a few weeks more.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $43 million

9. The Visit (September 11th)

The first of this fall's rather rich slate of horror films, and one whose prediction I have to record rather cautiously, given the identity of its maker: M. Night Shyamalan, who is perhaps unique in the anals of cinema in terms of his transformation from brilliant young auteur and helmer of box office juggernauts, into a man whose name film advertisers actively fear revealing. The idea for The Visit - children alone with their grandparents, who have apparently been transformed into homicidal weirdos* - is a decidedly Shyamalanesque mixture of clever and maybe laughable (not to jump ahead a month, but it sounds like it should have been the plot for a Goosebumps book). Indeed, the film's trailer starts out well enough, before veering off into the potentially absurd. How much of a chance audiences are going to give this concept, and more importantly, its director, is tough to say, but it's not been a strong year for horror. Good to note: one of the film's young stars, Ed Oxenbould, was exceptional in headlining Alexander and the ... Very Bad Day last fall. Let's see if he can keep his track record.

(* - "homicidal weirdos" would make a great name for a band).

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $32 million

10. The Transporter Refueled (September 4th)

This mid-level action series is here rebooted, reimagined, and thoroughly redone, if for no particular reason than installing in a new actor, Ed Skrein (previously of Game of Thrones) as the same character, extra-special-skilled deliveryman Frank Martin (though original series star Jason Statham is still kickin', to say the least). The Transporter films of old seem to have peaked at part two (in 2005), which at a $43 million total still stands as Jason Statham's biggest film as a solo lead (though I'm somehow tempted to give him full credit for Furious 7 and Spy, too. Really, wouldn't you?). The Transporter films' fortunes, in fact, have largely come and gone with the box office appeal of Statham (many of his other titles more or less played as unofficial Transporter installments), and with the similarly rebooted Hitman falling into disarray just two weeks ago, it's hard to see a path to much of a breakout run for this title, either. Still, The Transporter Refueled follows two weekends littered with extremely low openers, and it's practically the only release on Labor Day weekend, which does give it some leeway with those cinema patrons who just want to see something new that hasn't already been terribly dated by an August release tag.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $29 million