Weekend Report: 'Maze Runner' Franchise Off to Strong Start

by Ray Subers
The Maze Runner

September 21, 2014

The Maze Runner sprinted to the front of the pack with one of the biggest September debuts ever; add in strong international sales, and a new young-adult franchise was born this weekend.

Meanwhile, A Walk Among the Tombstones and This is Where I Leave You fell short of modest expectations.

Playing at 3,604 theaters, The Maze Runner opened to $32.5 million this weekend. That's nowhere close to Divergent, though it is bigger than Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief ($31.2 million) and Ender's Game ($27 million).

What separates The Maze Runner from those comparisons is its relatively modest budget—it cost just $34 million, or less than half of those movies—and its strong international prospects. Full international details can be found below in the Around-the-World Roundup.

As is always the case with young-adult adaptations, The Maze Runner's success can be attributed in part to the strong fanbase that's developed around author James Dashner's book series. Of course, an existing fanbase couldn't save Beautiful Creatures, The Host, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and many more young-adult flops.

In contrast to those movies, though, The Maze Runner had a marketing campaign that created broad interest outside of diehard "Gladers." Advertisements split time between outlining the movie's premise and showing off its thrilling action; thanks to the action in particular, opening weekend attendance skewed more male (49 percent) than usual for the young-adult genre.

The Maze Runner
's audience also skewed much younger (64 percent below 25 years of age), which tends to translate in to steep drops in subsequent weeks. Moviegoers did award it a solid "A-" CinemaScore, which suggests word-of-mouth will be good. If The Maze Runner follows Divergent's pattern, it will wrap up with nearly $90 million.

Regardless of how it holds up, though, 20th Century Fox seems bullish about its franchise potential: they're aggressively moving forward with The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, and announced a September 18th, 2015 release date this morning.

It's worth quickly noting that this is the latest success in a year that's been full of them for 20th Century Fox. The studio currently ranks first this year in total grosses with nearly $1.3 billion, and will likely finish the year on top thanks to a slew of appealing upcoming releases like Gone Girl, The Penguins of Madagascar and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Fox International has also had an excellent year so far: their Top Five movies have now earned nearly $2 billion overseas.

Liam Neeson's A Walk Among the Tombstones took second place with $12.8 million. That's over 50 percent lower than Non-Stop's $28.9 million debut earlier this year. Of course, that's not an entirely fair comparison: Non-Stop was a high-concept thriller rated PG-13, while A Walk Among the Tombstones is a grim R-rated crime drama.

Still, The Grey was a similarly low-key R-rated movie that managed to open close to $20 million back in 2012. The difference is that The Grey's marketing had a hook—Neeson facing down a pack of wolves—whereas Tombstones never looked like anything but a generic crime movie.

The audience was split evenly between men and women (51 percent), and skewed much older (77 percent over the age of 25. A weak "B-" CinemaScore suggests mixed word-of-mouth, and direct competition from The Equalizer and Gone Girl should cause this to fall off quickly. A final total below $40 million is likely.

In third place, This is Where I Leave You opened to $11.6 million. While that's not a terrible debut, it isn't a particularly good one, either. Marketing sold the movie mainly on its cast—which included Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda and more—though that only goes so far. Previews also had a strange mix of comedy and drama that never quite jived, and poor reviews (43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) surely didn't help.

The movie's audience was 63 percent female and 86 percent over the age of 25. It received a solid "B+" CinemaScore. With an older audience, it should hold up decently in the next few weeks: in the long run, it could earn anywhere from $30 to $40 million.

After opening in first place last weekend, No Good Deed plummeted 60 percent to $9.8 million. Through 10 days, the home invasion thriller has grossed $39.7 million.

Dolphin Tale 2
fell 44 percent to $8.7 million. In comparison, the first Dolphin Tale was only off 27 percent at the same point. To date, Dolphin Tale 2 has earned $26.9 million (over $10 million less than the first movie).

In sixth place, Guardians of the Galaxy eased 35 percent to $5.24 million. On Sunday, it passed Iron Man 2 to become the fourth-highest-grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (behind The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Iron Man). Guardians has now banked $313.7 million at the domestic box office, and is on track to finish with around $330 million.

Opening at 602 theaters, writer/director Kevin Smith's Tusk bombed with just $846,831. This is the type of genre movie that thrives in the post-theatrical market (cable, VOD, Netflix, etc.), though that still doesn't excuse less than $1 million from a nationwide release.

Around-the-World Roundup

The Maze Runner
expanded in to 45 new markets this weekend and earned an estimated $37.6 million. It took first place across nearly all of its markets, including a few of the holdovers, and also opened well above Divergent in most of these territories.

The movie opened to $5.5 million in South Korea and in Russia; in both of those markets, it was above the first Hunger Games. It also opened to twice as much as Divergent in Australia ($3.3 million) and Brazil ($2 million).

To date, The Maze Runner has earned $49 million overseas. It still has nine of the top 15 markets left to open, and will almost certainly wind up with over $200 million total.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
opened in Japan (its final market) this weekend. Unfortunately, its $3.7 million debut was well below the $5-million-plus opening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011.

Still, Dawn has now earned over $681 million worldwide—including over $100 million in China—and is on track to close north of $700 million.

added $13 million this weekend, which brings its overseas total to $253 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.

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

This Weekend in Past Years
• 2013 - 'Prisoners' Kidnaps Top Spot on Slow Fall Weekend

• 2012 - 'End of Watch' Narrowly Beats 'House,' 'Curve'
• 2011 - 'Lion' Remains 'King,' 'Moneyball,' 'Dolphin Tale' Go Extra Innings
• 2010 - 'Wall Street' Sequel Yields Solid Returns
• 2009 - Blue Skies for 'Cloudy,' Hazy Starts for 'Surrogates,' 'Fame'
• 2007 - 'Resident Evil' Infects Top Spot
• 2006 - 'Jackass' Slams Into Top Spot
• 2005 - 'Flightplan,' 'Corpse Bride' Give Rise to Lively Weekend

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