Weekend Box Office: MAZE RUNNER Leads with $32.5 Million; TOMBSTONES Soft in Second with $13.1 Million

     September 21, 2014

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Among this weekend’s three new releases only Fox’s The Maze Runner showed strength.  The sci-fi thriller brought in an estimated $32.5 million from 3,064 locations for the sixth-biggest September debut of all time.  Way back in second place with $13.1 million from 2,712 locations, A Walk Among the Tombstones suggests that audiences may be tiring of Liam Neeson and his now-familiar tough guy roles.  Finally, despite an ensemble cast that includes Jason Bateman and Tine Fey, This Is Where I Leave You failed to hit its very modest $15 million target.  In short, it was business as usual for the September box office.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  The Maze Runner $32,500,000 $32.5
2.  A Walk Among the Tombstones $13,126,000 $13.1
3.  This Is Where I Leave You $11,860,000 $11.8
4.  No Good Deed $10,200,000 $40.1
5.  Dolphin Tale 2 $9,005,000 $27
6.  Guardians of the Galaxy $5,180,000 $313.6
7.  Let’s Be Cops $2,675,000 $77.2
8.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles $2,650,000 $185
9.  The Drop $2,050,000 $7.7
10.  If I Stay $1,835,000 $47.6

Full story after the jump.

Maze-Runner-Poster-3The Maze Runner, an adaptation of James Dashner’s 2007 novel, was inexpensive for a sci-fi title – just $34 million before marketing, according to the studio – so this morning’s opening counts as a win, even if the film looks unimposing next to some of its blockbuster YA predecessors.

Over the past five years or so, adaptations of ‘young adult’ novels have mainly fallen into two categories: spectacular successes and epic fails.  The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games series clearly belong in the winning column, having earned over $2 billion combined in North America alone.  The Fault In Our Stars was also a big YA success story: earning $300 million worldwide on a budget of just $12 million.  Unfortunately,  many more YA page-to-screen adaptations have fallen short of greatness.  By now the list should be familiar: Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Instruments, The Host, Vampire Academy.  I am even tempted to add last year’s Ender’s Game to the list, but I know that fans of Orson Scott Card take issue with the ‘YA’ label.

In between The Hunger Games and Vampire Academy, however, is a series of mid-range box office performers.  Neither blockbusters nor disasters, these YA middle-achievers include the Percy Jackson films, which did solid business overseas in 2010 and 2013, and even this year’s Divergent, which earned just $150 in its domestic box office run despite being positioned as the next Hunger Games.

The middle is where The Maze Runner was expected to land, given its September release date.  The film did have a strong international opening last weekend, which gave it a global estimate at $81.5 million as of this morning.  By contrast, Ender’s Game earned a total of $125 million worldwide but cost $110 million – the main reason it belongs on the ‘fail’ side of the adaptation list (YA’ designation or no).  Maze Runner’s budget is a much-leaner $34 million and, with this morning’s win, Fox has already announced a September 2015 release for the sequel.

a-walk-among-the-tombstones-posterThis weekend’s second place finisher is also an adaptation of a popular book series, though not of the ‘young adult’ variety.  A Walk Among the Tombstones is based on author Lawrence Block’s bestselling crime novel featuring hard-bitten ex-cop protagonist Matthew Scudder.  The character first appeared in print almost 40 years ago, which gives Tombstones a completely different target demographic than The Maze Runner.  And with Liam Neeson in the lead, a man who has played grizzled bad-asses like Scudder to great success over the last five years, Tombstones had the potential for a solid opening in the $20 million range.

Instead, the film came in under projections with just $13.1 million.  That’s far lower than any of Neeson’s recent thrillers including The Grey, his previous low water mark.  Tombstones has had decent reviews and was modestly budgeted at $28 million, so this morning’s release is not a total disaster yet.  That will come next weekend, courtesy of Denzel Washington and The Equalizer.  The latter is expected to open above $35 million, and because it appeals to the same audience as Neeson’s, it should put the final nail in Among the Tombstones’ coffin.

Unlike Tombstones, big things were not expected from This Is Where I Leave You so it’s not surprising to find the family dramedy way back in third place.  Also not a shock is the fate of last weekend’s new releases.  Former first-place finisher No Good Deed was off by 58% in its sophomore frame while the family-friendly Dolphin Tale 2 took a milder 43% drop.

Finally, Director Kevin Smith’s independently-released Tusk took in an estimated $886,000 from 602 initial locations.  Even considering its unorthodox marketing strategy (or lack thereof), the comedy’s failure to reach $1 million is not promising.  Still, the overall box office was in good shape for September – coming in 16% ahead of 2013 when Prisoners was in first place.  If The Equalizer lives up to its potential, next weekend should put another win in 2014’s column.  That can’t compensate for the box office’s near-ruinous July, but it’s a start.

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