Mobsters, mountain climbers and teenage racers piled into multiplexes this weekend, lifting the overall box office, but preventing any one film from dominating ticket sales.
“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” a sequel to last year’s post-apocalyptic young adult adaptation, fared best. It got off to a solid start by topping charts with $30.3 million. Filmed for $61 million and distributed by 20th Century Fox, the picture bowed in 3,791 locations, receiving intense competition from “Black Mass,” which likely contributed to it failing to match or exceed the $32.5 million debut of its predecessor.
“Some people expected more out of the newcomers, but it was still a healthy weekend by September standards,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “There was a lot of diversity, but that can cut both ways. It builds everything up, but sometimes competition happens and there’s a little cannibalization.”
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“Black Mass,” a look Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and his unholy alliance with the FBI, has been hailed as a return to form for Johnny Depp, who had squandered critical and audience goodwill with too many “Mortdecais” and “Lone Rangers.” Bolstered by a cast of respected character actors and veterans such as Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kevin Bacon cost $53 million to make. Strong reviews helped push the Warner Bros. film to a respectable second place finish with $23.4 million across 3,188 locations. That puts it in line with other Beantown crime dramas such as “The Departed,” which started with $26 million in 2006 and “The Town,” which kicked off to $23.8 million in 2010.
Depp was the big attraction, with 55% of audience members reporting that his turn as the sociopathic crime lord with the dead blue eyes was the reason they bought tickets.
“Johnny Depp always swings for the fences, and sometimes he strikes out, but this was a grand slam,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “He’s the face of evil.”
Then there was Universal’s “Everest,” which opted to give a wide berth to gangster rats and futuristic teens by opening in a special Imax and premium format run. The film aped an approach used by “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” in 2011, which debuted to $13.3 million on these specialty screens before having its wide release. “Everest” bowed to a sterling $7.6 million across 545 screens, for a per-screen average of $13,867 and a fifth place finish. The $55 million adventure film stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal, and was backed by Cross Creek, Working Title and Walden Media. Its reception is good news for “The Walk,” the Sony film about tightrope walker Philippe Petit, which is employing a similar Imax and premium format debut as a way to generate buzz.
Universal was particularly pleased that “Everest” received an A Cinemascore, a sign that ticket buyers will recommend the film to friends and family.
“The good news is they like it,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief. “It’s a human interest story, but the enhanced formats highlight another important character and that’s the mountain and nature in all its horrible glory.”
“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” brought in an ethnically diverse group of people that seemed to respond to a cast that includes African-American, Asian and Hispanic actors in prominent roles. Caucasians accounted for less than half of the opening weekend crowd, with females accounting for 53% and 63% of the audience coming in under the age of 25. Overseas, the film is outpacing its predecessor, having earned $78 million after two weeks of release.
“We have a very loyal fan base,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’s domestic distribution chief. “We’ve cultivated it and, if you look at the demographic data, we’ve broadened it.”
Despite the success Fox has had with debuting the “Maze Runner” films on this September weekend, the third film in the series, “The Death Cure,” won’t hit theaters until Presidents Day Weekend in 2017.
“It’s the finale, so we want to take our time,” said Aronson.
The top five was rounded out by Universal’s “The Visit,” which picked up $11.3 million in its second weekend and third place, and Sony’s “The Perfect Guy,” which finished with $9.7 million in fourth position. The films have made $42.3 million and $41.4 million, respectively.
That left “Captive,” Paramount’s attempt to wrangle the faith-based crowds that lifted “War Room” to box office heights, with roughly $1.4 million after bowing on 806 locations. It’s a mediocre showing, but given the film’s $2 million budget, it doesn’t carry a lot of risk. “Captive” is a true story about a woman (Kate Mara) who gains strength from celebrity pastor Rick Warren’s inspirational books while being held hostage by an ex-convict (David Oyelowo).
In the indie world, Bleecker Street debuted “Pawn Sacrifice,” a look a troubled chess great Bobby Fischer, to $206,879 for a per-screen average of $6,269, while Lionsgate got drug war thriller “Sicario” off to a sizzling start of $390,000 from just six engagements. That translates to a sterling $65,000 per-screen average, the highest this year. “Sicario” expands to approximately 50 theaters next weekend and goes wide on Oct. 2.
“We want to be sure that we establish ourselves and build a long runway,” said David Spitz, executive vice president of distribution at Lionsgate, adding, “When these kinds of films reach an audience and word of mouth starts to spread, they become events.”
He predicted “Sicario,” which stars Emily Blunt as a steely FBI agent, would play well to both genders because it offers such a meaty role for an actress in the kind of part usually reserved for me.
In milestone news, Sony Pictures/Affirm’s “War Room” became the fifth highest-grossing faith-based film, earning $49.2 million to date, while “Mr. Holmes” with Ian McKellen now ranks as the second highest-grossing film in Roadside Attractions’ history with $17.5 million, behind only “Mud” with $21.6 million.
Overall ticket sales rose 9% over the year-ago period when the first “Maze Runner” and Liam Neeson’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” topped the box office.