By Tim Briody
September 20, 2015
A surprisingly jam-packed September weekend at theaters features a franchise sequel, the first blatant salvo in this year’s Academy Awards race, and an IMAX/premium format advance release of one of next weekend’s wide releases.
The weekend winner is Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the second film in the young adult book franchise. On this weekend a year ago, The Maze Runner won the weekend with $32.5 million on its way to a $102.3 million total, which assured films would be made out of at least the second and third books in the series (there are presently four Maze Runner books, with a fifth due in 2016, though the latter two are prequels to The Maze Runner.)
The weekend estimate for The Scorch Trials is $30.3 million, which is just fine despite a 6.7% decline in the opening. As seems to be a trend with YA adaptations, sequels are not able to expand the audience beyond the core group that saw the first film.
The reported Friday earnings for The Scorch Trials were $11 million, with $1.7 coming Thursday night. That’s in line with The Maze Runner’s $11.3 million, as BOP’s John Hamann wrote yesterday, but it couldn’t quite match the first film’s weekend multiplier.
Despite the slightly lower opening weekend, there’s not much to dislike here even if The Scorch Trials doesn’t make the $100 million mark like its predecessor. Fox spent a lot more on this one than they did The Maze Runner ($61 million vs. $34 million), but that’s likely because The Maze Runner was wildly successful overseas, taking in $243 million, thus the high budget for the sequel. The film adaptation for the third book has been greenlit, and thankfully the producers are not taking a page from the playbook of every other YA franchise and splitting it into two movies (I’m still shaking my head at you, Divergent). While The Scorch Trials came exactly a year after The Maze Runner, The Death Cure is slated to start filming in 2016 and has been penciled in for an early 2017 release.
Second on the weekend goes to Black Mass, the story of famed Boston mobster turned informant turned fugitive Whitey Bulger, played by Johnny Depp. It managed $23.3 million, a decent but not necessarily auspicious showing. It’s the first wide release that truly kicks off the year’s awards season (calm down, Mad Max: Fury Road fans), as it’s primarily a showcase role for Depp. Critical consensus is mostly positive (76% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes), with several reviews saying Depp carries the film adeptly and definitely places him in the conversation for a Best Actor nomination.
While nobody doubts Depp’s acting chops, his box office performances have largely been lacking in movies where he does not play Captain Jack Sparrow. Mortdecai was one of the year’s biggest flops, and the last few years have not been kind to him as his tendency to pick, well, “interesting” roles has basically given him a reputation as box office poison. Black Mass has already earned more than 2014’s Transcendence, for instance.