Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is heading for as high as a $34 million opening weekend at the U.S. box office — likely enough to top a solid showing by Johnny Depp’s “Black Mass” that could reach $30 million,  according to early estimates Friday.

Should initial projections hold, “The Scorch Trials” would finish the weekend in line with recent forecasts for the sci-fi sequel. The $34 million figure would be about 5% above the $32.5 million opening weekend for “The Maze Runner on the same weekend a year ago.

“Scorch Trials” started its race with an impressive $1.7 million in Thursday night showings at about 2,900 locations — 55% above the Thursday evening total for “Maze Runner.” Early estimates for opening day of “Scorch Trials” ranged from $8 million at $12 million at 3,791 sites.

Depp’s gangster pic “Black Mass” earned a notable $1.4 million — similar to the $1.2 million in previews a year ago from “Gone Girl,” which went on to an opening weekend of $37.5 million. Early estimates for for Friday’s number on “Black Mass” were in the $9 million to $11 million range at 3,188 locations.

“Black Mass,” which has evoked mostly stellar reviews for Depp followings its showings at the Telluride, Venice and Toronto festivals, was heading for as high as $30 million for weekend. That’s well above recent forecasts in the $22 million range — which remained the low end of Friday’s estimates.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak, said that the weekend appears to be continuing the momentum from last weekend, when “The Perfect Guy” and “The Visit” over-performed during what’s generally a soft period for moviegoing.

“It feels like summer in September,” he added. “Any time you see Thursday night numbers over $1 million, those are indications of great deal of excitement.”

Universal’s mountaineering epic “Everest” began its climb at the box office with $325,000 on Thursday previews in limited release 481 Imax 3D and premium-large format 3D theaters. Early estimates showed a Friday total in a range between $1.5 million and $2.5 million at 546 sites, which could translate to as high as $7 million.

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” has a solid pedigree with the original having grossed $102 million domestically and another $238 million internationally. The sequel, which cost $61 million to produce,  opened to $26.7 million overseas last weekend.

“Scorch Trials” stars Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario and Patricia Clarkson.

“Black Mass” has received strong reviews for Depp’s portayal of infamous Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, earning a 75% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “Black Mass,” which cost $53 million to make, also stars Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dakota Johnson.

Universal’s “Everest” is aiming to raise awareness for the $55 million adventure film by allowing word-of-mouth to build organically as it moves into wide release next weekend. “Everest” has a strong ensemble cast with Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson.

Rotten Tomatoes gave “Everest” a 70% fresh rating. Dergarabedian said “Black Mass” and “Everest” should have staying power in coming weeks — and providing a rebound for Depp after generating little interest in “Mortdecai” and “Transcendence” last year.

“The audience is going to be talking about these movies,” he added. “Reviews matter a lot for the target audience for ‘Black Mass.’ I think people want to see Johnny Depp playing a real person.”

The weekend will also see Paramount’s mid-size launch of the thriller “Captive” at 806 sites. The film stars David Oyelowo, Kate Mara, Michael K. Williams, Leonor Varela, Jessica Oyelowo and Mimi Rogers.

Year-to-date domestic box office has hit $7.889 billion as of Sept. 17 — up 5.83% from the same point a year ago, according to Rentrak. The figure slightly lags the 2013 total by 0.43%.