Weekend Forecast for September 18-20, 2015

By Reagen Sulewski

September 18, 2015

You mean to tell me this is *not* the 76th annual Hunger Games?

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The rare release of a franchise film, combined with a potential high profile, high wattage Oscar contender in September, signals a bit of a sea change – both in the month's box office as well as how studios are starting to treat what's been seen as a bit of a backwater month. It's a bit early to start lumping it in with the quality of films that appear in October, but we're doing much better with the year-round box office concept.

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the second film in that series, taking our plucky teen heroes out from the mysterious prison/puzzle/battlefield and into the real world, or what remains of it, which consists entirely of sand and ruined recognizable land marks. That's right, we're going YA Mad Max here, but without the particular artistry or inventiveness, which just makes the endless chase scenes with occasional interruptions for exposition that lets us know just what the hell is going on all that more tedious.

It's pretty clearly an amuse-bouche meant to tide you over until the last Hunger Games movie drops (of these kind of films, personally, I prefer The Group Hopper), and to cash in on every last dollar of book series that they can. Last year, the first film opened to a modest $32.5 million, and this looks to be a slight improvement on that, in that its heavier emphasis on action make it a “better” blockbuster, plus the potential for it to have gained fans thanks to the exposure of the first release. The cast, as ever, is an irrelevant bunch of 20-something actors plus character actors to act as evil Authority Figures and/or Lost Parents To Wist For – showing just how valuable Jennifer Lawrence is to her films. I look for around $36 million this weekend, and a relative topping of the charts.


One of the biggest tests of Johnny Depp's career starts this weekend, with the release of Black Mass. Playing notorious Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, the film covers his rise to power as an FBI informant, eventually taking over the same gangs he was meant to bring down. Looking like an even more psychotic version of his Hunter S. Thompson with layers of aging making, Depp is like an animalistic center of the film, contrasting with the lower-key performances of Joel Edgerton as his FBI handler and Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother, a Massachusetts state senator.

As directed by Scott Cooper, of Crazy Heart fame, it's a slow-boiling procedural film, showing how the attempt to control organized crime only made it 10 times worse, thanks to picking exactly the wrong guy to run it. Per the reviews, the film is not that special other than Depp's performance, which has him at the polar opposite of his Captain Jack Sparrow/Tonto mugging for the camera. It's been a tough run for him outside of those kinds of roles, with Mortdecai, Transcendence, Dark Shadows and The Tourist on his recent resume. In fact, outside of his showier roles, it's almost impossible to find something that's both successful and highly acclaimed. Public Enemies might come closest, and seems like a good model for this film. The biggest question is whether audiences are willing to accept him in those roles, or whether his recent failures have soured people on his performances. I personally think he'll still be cut an enormous amount of slack, and with solid reviews and a chance to see him in a juicy, evil role, this should manage a decent opening of about $23 million.

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