Forecast: 'Maze Runner' on Track for Big First Place Debut

by Ray Subers
The Maze Runner

September 18, 2014

After a few quiet weeks, business should pick up substantially this weekend. Three major new releases hit theaters, and young-adult adaptation The Maze Runner will likely finish at the front of the pack.

Opening at 3,604 theaters, The Maze Runner is the latest attempt to cash in on the young-adult craze that's led to successful franchises like Twilight, The Hunger Games and Divergent.

For every hit, though, there's at least two misses: in the past two years, the young-adult graveyard includes Beautiful Creatures, The Host, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Vampire Academy.

Ahead of the weekend, it's pretty clear that The Maze Runner is going to avoid falling in to the latter category. While the existing fanbase is more-or-less on par with other would-be franchises—and much lower than The Hunger Games or Divergent—20th Century Fox has done a good job campaigning to non-readers.

Marketing has nicely established the movie's mysterious premise, and shown off plenty of tense maze-related action. From a publicity front, the cast of up-and-comers (including "Teen Wolf"s Dylan O'Brien) have been actively stumping for the movie at events all over the country.

Tracking is strong, and distributor 20th Century Fox is anticipating an opening in the high-$20-millions. If it over-performs and winds up north of $35 million, it would be only the fourth September release to ever reach that level (after Sweet Home Alabama, Hotel Transylvania and Insidious Chapter 2).

Even if The Maze Runner falls a bit short in the U.S., it does look poised for a solid international run. It opened well above Divergent in five markets last weekend, and expands in to another 48 territories (including Australia, Brazil, Russia and Spain) this weekend.

A Walk Among the Tombstones will test the strength of the Liam Neeson brand at 2,712 theaters this weekend. The movie is adapted from the Lawrence Block book of the same name, which is one of 17 novels centered around private investigator Matthew Scudder (portrayed here by Neeson).

Since Taken put Neeson on the map as a major action star, he's had a number of modest non-Taken hits: Unknown ($21.9 million opening), The Grey ($19.7 million) and Non-Stop ($28.9 million) all got a lot of mileage out of Neeson's aging tough-guy persona.

Tombstones is arguably a harder sell than any of those movies. While previews do feature Neeson in some classic scenarios—roughing up thugs, trash talking on the phone—the whole affair seems more grim and subdued than past outings. The best comparison is probably The Grey, though Tombstones is lacking a signature moment akin to Neeson facing down a wolf in that movie.

A more useful comparison could be similarly dark crime movies opening around the same time in September over the past few years. On the high end, Tombstones could match last year's Prisoners ($20.8 million); on the opposite end, it could fall as low as 2011's Drive ($11.3 million). Distributor Universal Pictures is expecting something in between (mid-teen-millions).

This is Where I Leave You opens at 2,868 theaters this weekend, and will likely take third place behind The Maze Runner and A Walk Among the Tombstones. The family drama has a stacked cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Rose Bryne, Jane Fonda among others.

While the cast is popular, none are guaranteed box office draws (very few actors are, really). While Bateman has had a slew of hits, he wasn't able to get people to show up for Bad Words (which was probably more in his wheelhouse than This is Where I Leave You). Ditto for Fey, who had a flop last year with Admission.

Outside of the cast, the movie's appeal is even more questionable. Its "estranged family gets back together for a funeral" story seems a bit played out, and marketing has had a hard time deciding if this is a comedy or a drama. It doesn't help that the movie has received mostly tepid reviews: as of Thursday afternoon, it was around 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, this is the only non-action movie in the market for adult moviegoers, and should see solid holds in the coming weeks (look at last month's The Hundred-Foot Journey for an example of how significant this can be). For opening weekend, Warner Bros. is expecting around $14 million.

A24 is releasing Kevin Smith's Tusk at 602 theaters this weekend. The horror comedy has eschewed traditional marketing efforts in favor of a campaign aimed almost exclusively at Smith's loyal fanbase (he has 2.7 million Twitter followers). That kind of strategy is advantageous in that it keeps costs down, though that usually goes hand-in-hand with lower box office revenues. Look for it to fall outside the Top 10 with less than $1.5 million this weekend.

Forecast (September 19-21)
1. The Maze Runner - $34 million
2. A Walk Among the Tombstones - $16 million
3. This is Where I Leave You - $11 million
4. No Good Deed - $10.9 million (-55%)
5. Dolphin Tale 2 - $10.5 million (-34%)
-. Tusk - $1.2 million

Bar for Success
The Maze Runner is doing well overseas, and was fairly inexpensive to produce ($34 million). Anything over $25 million this weekend would be a huge win. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a more modest affair than the usual Neeson movie, though it should still be doing at least $15 million. This is Where I Leave You is in good shape if it opens to $15 million.

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

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Last Weekend's Report: 'No Good Deed' Succeeds, 'Guardians' Passes $300 Million

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