The domestic box office roars back to life this weekend as two highly anticipated films, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” and “Black Mass,” launch in U.S. theaters.
Both films are tracking well. Fox’s “Maze Runner” sequel will likely end up in first place, pulling in approximately $35 million across 3,790 locations, while Warner Bros.’ “Black Mass” is eyeing a debut of $22 million from roughly 3,188 venues.
That’s a strong start. If the “Maze Runner” follow-up hits those figures (and some outside analysts think it could climb higher), it represents an improvement on the first film’s $32.5 million opening. It also puts the film on pace to be profitable. “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails” cost $61 million to produce and opened to $26.7 million overseas last weekend.
It’s also a solid opening for “Black Mass,” which is relying on reviews for Johnny Depp’s transformative work as gangster James “Whitey” Bulger to bring in crowds. The good news is critics think it’s among the actor’s best performances, with the film currently enjoying an 87% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It should snap Depp’s cold streak at the box office — the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star is reeling from a long list of flops such as “Mortdecai,” “Transcendence” and “The Lone Ranger” that have endangered his A-list status. “Black Mass” cost $53 million to make.
Box office watchers think the competitive weekend is a good augur for the state of the exhibition business. The likely success of “Black Mass” and the second “Maze Runner” comes on the heels of strong debuts last week for “The Perfect Guy” and “The Visit.”
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“We’re looking at September being pretty strong and certainly bigger than last year,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
There are also a number of notable films opening in limited release that could do respectable business, pushing overall ticket sales higher. Universal will bow “Everest” in an exclusive Imax run across 365 domestic sites. The hope is that the limited engagement will raise awareness for the $55 million adventure film, allowing word-of-mouth to build organically, so the studio isn’t overly reliant on scoring a massive opening weekend if it wants to make money. Sony is trying a similar approach with “The Walk,” a 3D look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s high wire constitutional between the Twin Towers. Look for “Everest” to pull in roughly $5 million before going wide next weekend.
Then there’s “Captive,” a thriller that combines a hostage situation with Rick Warren books, and stars David Oyelowo and Kate Mara. Filmed for $2 million, a relative pittance in studio terms, the film will play in approximately 800 locations, where it is expected to make $2 million to $3 million. The goal is to bring out the faith-based crowd that made “War Room” a surprise hit.
“Sicario,” a critically acclaimed look at the drug trade, will roll out across six locations in New York and Los Angeles, before having a limited expansion in top markets the following weekend, followed by a wide release opening on October 2. Its debut, coupled with that of “Black Mass,” clear signals that the movie business is moving out of popcorn season and gearing up for the Oscar race.