"Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" ignited the weekend box office with an estimated $30.3-million domestic debut, while the Johnny Depp gangster film “Black Mass” opened with some heat of its own.
Going into the weekend, tracking estimates suggested Twentieth Century Fox's “Scorch Trials” would surpass the $32.5-million opening of its predecessor, 2014’s "The Maze Runner." Instead, the sequel fell slightly short of that figure, likely due to the better-than-expected $23.4 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada for "Black Mass," which finished at No. 2.
Based on the bestselling young adult books by James Dashner, "The Maze Runner" series follows Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) as he is deposited into a community of young men in a post-apocalyptic world. The sequel, which cost about $61 million to make, takes them to the Scorch, a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.
"We're in great shape," said Chris Aronson, Fox's head of distribution. "Any time you interpret a book to a visual medium, it's going to be subject to interpretation of filmmakers. I think our filmmakers, led by Wes Ball, did a tremendous job, especially with diverse casting."
Moviegoers responded positively to the post-apocalyptic story, giving it an average B-plus grade, according to audience polling firm CinemaScore. It scored particularly well in Sacramento, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Dallas, San Antonio and Portland, Ore.
Like other young-adult book adaptations, such as the "Hunger Games" and the "Divergent" series, "Scorch Trials" attracted largely younger moviegoers. An estimated 63% of the opening weekend audience for the sequel was younger than 25. Female moviegoers made up about 53% of the audience.
"Our demos were within a couple of points from the first film," Aronson said. "I think we have a very loyal and consistent fan base."
The sequel also performed well overseas, where it made $43.3 million in 66 markets over the weekend. To date, the film has made $108.3 million globally. Next weekend, the film will expand to seven more markets.
Warner Bros.' "Black Mass" surpassed tracking expectations. The film, which follows the rise of South Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, is based on the nonfiction book "Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob" by former Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill.
Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. executive vice president and general sales manager, called it a "sensational" opening, highlighting the film's success across the board, but particularly in New England. Six of the film’s top 10 locations were in New England; three were in Los Angeles and one was in New York.
"Boston normally comes in about 2.7% share of our domestic openings," Goldsten said. "For 'Black Mass,' the region made up 10%.”
Johnny Depp's portrayal of Bulger as well as performances from co-stars Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch helped the film to garner positive word of mouth ahead of the release. Moviegoers gave it a B on CinemaScore. The majority of moviegoers for opening weekend were male (56%) and older than 25 (89%).
Universal Pictures' “The Visit" added an estimated $11.3 million, enough for third place in its second weekend. The low-budget horror film from director M. Night Shyamalan is about two kids whose visit to their grandparents doesn’t go exactly as planned. To date, it has made $42.3 million in the U.S. and Canada.
The suspense thriller “The Perfect Guy” brought in an estimated $9.7 million, dropping 62% in its second weekend and dropping first to fourth place. The Sony Screen Gems film, which stars Sanaa Lathan and Michael Ealy, has made about $41.4 million domestically to date.
Working Title, Cross Creek Pictures and Walden Media’s "Everest," released by Universal Pictures, rounded out the top five, collecting an impressive $7.6 million in just 545 IMAX 3D and premium-large format 3D theaters in North America.
The release strategy is meant to encourage people to see the film in the premium formats and then use the buzz “to support the wider break this coming Friday," said Nick Carpou, Universal's head of domestic distribution. "It's a great start."
The epic adventure film stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal. An estimated 55% of the audience for opening weekend was 35 and older, and 54% were male.
The film collected $28.2 million in 36 international territories, bringing its early worldwide total to $35.8 million.
Also noteworthy this weekend: Paramount Pictures' "Captive," which cost just $2 million to film, debuted at No. 11 with $1.4 million in ticket sales from about 800 locations. The faith-based film stars David Oyelowo and Kate Mara and is based on Ashley Smith's book "Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story Of The Atlanta Hostage Hero."
In limited release, Lionsgate's drug war thriller "Sicario" grossed $390,000 on six screens in the U.S. The solid per screen average of $65,000 is the best of any film thus far in 2015. The film will expand to about 50 theaters next weekend.
Thanks to a robust September weekend, the year-to-date box office is up 6.1%.
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