“The Maze Runner” is hurtling towards theaters this weekend, with the sleek look of a young adult franchise in the making.
The adaptation of James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic bestseller mixes a dash of “Lord of the Flies” and a dollop of “The Hunger Games” in its story of a group of teenagers who must outrace some nasty creatures and a dangerous, perpetually shifting labyrinth as they struggle to survive.
Audiences seem to be responding to futuristic saga and the film is on track to debut to north of $30 million across 3,500 locations, 350 of which will be Imax theaters and the same number of premium large format screens.
“That young adult audience is fickle, but if they’re properly marketed to then suddenly you’ve got a big hit on your hands,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.
Fox, which is backing the $34 million production, is being more conservative and saying the film should come in the high-$20 million range, insisting the studio would be happy with anything with a 3 in front of it. Though “Maze Runner’s” book sales fall short of “Twilight,” “The Fault in Our Stars” and other young adult hits, it may be able to broaden the audience demographically. The action elements should bring in boys, unlike the film adaptations of those books which played primarily to girls. For the double x chromosome set, the attraction is Dylan O’Brien, the oft-shirtless star of “Teen Wolf,” in the lead role.
“The Maze Runner” sprints into a crowded marketplace, with two other wide releases landing in theaters, “This Is Where I Leave You” and “A Walk Among the Tombstones.” Both films claim literary pedigree — “This is Where I Leave You” adapts Jonathan Tropper’s family dramedy, while “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is based on a crime thriller by Lawrence Block.
Star power, not best-seller status will be the main attractions. Give the edge to “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” which will benefit from the presence of Liam Neeson. The picture will likely do $18 million worth of business domestically when it bows in 2,713 North American theaters. Given its hard R-rating, the opening weekend crowd will skew older than the fans that came to see the PG-13 rated “Non-Stop” and “Taken.”
“Liam Neeson usually does well, but this looks a little different his usual Action Jackson-type fare,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
Universal Pictures is distributing the film, which follows an ex-cop tasked with finding a drug dealer’s kidnapped wife. Cross Creek financed the film, which cost in the high $20 million range to produce.
“This Is Where I Leave You” arrives with the bigger cast, its poster positively overflowing with veterans and newer stars including Adam Driver, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and Jason Bateman. The Warner Bros. release cost a modest $19 million to produce and should bring in $12 million to $15 million when it debuts on roughly 2,868 screens. Older females are responding the most, according to tracking.
“It may not be strong going out of the gate, but it could end up holding up well as an alternative to darker movies like ‘Gone Girl’ or ‘The Equalizer,'” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com. “There’s room in the marketplace for it.”
The weekend will also see a number of limited releases. Relativity will unveil “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” a comic self-discovery tale with Simon Pegg, in four theater in Los Angeles and New York. The film will expand to select cities on September 26.
The Weinstein Company is bringing “Tracks,” the story of a woman’s nine-month journey on camels across the Australian desert, to four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Reviews for the film, which stars Mia Wasikowska, have been sterling.
Lastly, A24 will push Kevin Smith’s horror film “Tusk” onto roughly 600 screens, where it should do $1 million. The story of a podcaster who is taken hostage and turned into a walrus cost $2.4 million to produce.