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Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: YA ‘Maze Runner’ Scores, Numbers Rebound

Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: YA 'Maze Runner' Scores, Numbers Rebound

Next weekend brings a major star vehicle (Sony’s Denzel Washington-starrer “The Equalizer”) and the first animated movie for a while (Laika/Focus feature “The Boxtrolls”), so assuming there’s a solid hold for “Maze Runner,” the trend could continue. Even with this small uptick, year-to-date numbers are still 5.5% below 2013.

The Top Ten 

1. The Maze Runner (Twentieth Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 56; est. cost: $34 million
$32,500,000 in 3,604 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $9,018; Cumulative: $32,500,000
2. A Walk Among the Tombstones (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 57; est. cost: $28 million
$13,126,000 in 3,712 theaters; PSA: $4,840; Cumulative: $13,126,000
3. This Is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemacore: B+; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 44; est. cost: $20 million
$11,860,000 in 2,868 theaters; PSA: $4,135; Cumulative: $11,860,000
4. No Good Deed (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$10,200,000 (-58%) in 2,175 theaters (no change); PSA: $4,690; Cumulative: $40,110,000
5. Dolphin Tale 2 (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$9,005,000 (-43%) in 3,656 theaters (no change); PSA: $2,463; Cumulative: $27,070,000
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (Buena Vista) Week 8 – Last weekend #3
$5,180,000 (-36%) in 2,846 theaters (-258); PSA: $2,463; Cumulative: $313,669,000
7. Let’s Be Cops (20th Century Fox) Week 6 – Last weekend #5
$2,675,000 (-39%) in 2,312 theaters (-443); PSA: $1,157; Cumulative: $77,196,000
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount) Week 7 – Last weekend #4
$2,650,000 (-45%) in 2,348 theaters (-609); PSA: $1,129; Cumulative: $185,018,000
9. The Drop (Fox Searchlight) Week 2 – Last weekend #6
$2,050,000 (-50%) in 1,192 theaters (+383); PSA: $1,720; Cumulative: $7,690,000
10. If I Stay (Warner Bros.) Week 5 – Last weekend #7
$1,835,000 (-53%) in 2,371 theaters (-669); PSA: $774; Cumulative: $47,672,000

Young adult – With a variation

This is the seventh young adult novel adaptation to be released in the last 12 months, a dominant genre that in recent years has included the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” films and is currently flying high with the “Hunger Games” series. Most of these have had cross-genre (fantasy, horror included) elements. The current fad is the post-apocalyptic theme, with female leads in the most successful entries (“Hunger,” “Divergent”). “The Maze Runner” has a young male hero, played by recent teen idol Dylan O’Brien (now in his early 20s). Last year’s disappointing “Ender’s Game,” with Asa Butterfield in the lead (based on a better-known classic book) opened to only $27 million, with a smaller Saturday uptick and ultimately not much more than doubling its opening weekend. “Maze” did fall short of “Divergent”s $54 million start, without the benefit of Shailene Woodley star-power.

“The Maze Runner” actually played in terms of audience more like a general audience action film. Its gender split was almost even, and Fox reports attendees were nearly 48% non-white (with solid numbers from African-American, Latino and Asian-American audiences), and 64% under 25 (a pick up from some other recent #1 films which have been more heavily older appeal). Its fantasy elements, more central to this than the female-based dystopian entries. seems to have added to the draw. 

The broader appeal didn’t get this close to the “Hunger” or “Divergent” numbers, and though it is an above-average opening number for September it doesn’t reach the level of several others for the month in recent years. Of note though is its foreign opening  last week which has already brought in an additional $87 million, suggesting that Fox (which is having a strong year) has another hit, with possible future prospects for a sequel or more if this holds up well ahead.

Cheaper budgets continue to boost studio prospects

“The Maze Runner” is a continuation of the 2014 studio trend toward lower average production budgets. “Enders Game” for example cost $110 million, a rare stumble for Lionsgate. “Maze” came in for a nifty $34 million before marketing costs (for all wide domestic releases usually at least $30 million), so when all revenues are tallied eventually it looks like to be a clear hit. 

This week’s other two much weaker openers, though still saddled with those pesky marketing costs, at least also are economical. “A Walk Among the Ruins,” an unusual underperformer among Liam Neeson action films, cost about $28 million. With Neeson now an even bigger draw overseas with the right film, Universal still might be able to eke out a profit. Though it is the least expensive of the trio at $20 million, “This Is Where I Leave You” and its weak start might be more of a problem. Its home-grown older appeal and cast likely won’t thrive in foreign markets, and it will need a strong hold ahead (it did have the best Saturday from Friday jump) to have a chance of reaching its needed totals even with the lower initial expense.

Are happy days here again, or just more films?

After several weeks of sizable drops, business picked up this weekend, with the Top Ten totaling $89 million, 29% better than a year ago. “The Maze Runner” performed at the high end of expectations, and also had a promising jump yesterday over its combined Thursday evening-Friday opening, so it might be set for a solid ongoing run. The three new films (which took the top three slots–the first time that has happened since August last year, when four new films led the list) grossed over $54 million, compared to the the $25 million that “Prisoners” and “Battle of the Year” took in 2013. So the main factor in the boost is the availability of fresh product, more than an indication of an incipient turnaround.

Even though new films had some impact on holdovers, they only fell on average 46%, which is below the norm. Week two films “No Good Deed” (down an unhealthy 58%) and “Dolphin Tale 2” (-43%, more than the first film, which opened higher and dropped only 27% its second weekend) lagged behind sub-40% declines for longer running hits “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Let’s Be Cops” despite both those films steadily losing theaters.

Semi-wide and limited runs

Amid the films in the top 15 films are three debuting or in their second week that are at this point far lower than the usual 2,000+ numbers common for wide releases, playing to variable results. It appeared last weekend that Fox Searchlight might have a chance to push “The Drop” to greater appeal by initially opening in over 800 runs in more upscale areas (mostly outside though the usual initial big city limited runs) and then reach a bigger audience as they held and added runs. The result is not promising though. The total gross dropped 50% even though they added 383 theaters. Its PSA fell by 2/3s, suggesting that it won’t have a much longer shelf life.

A24 pushed Kevin Smith’s “Tusk” to 602 theaters, not a surprise since his films have frequently opened wide. But this comedy/horror effort didn’t even gross $1 million and also looks to disappear instead of expanding further (it actually dropped steeply yesterday from its Friday numbers.)

But the most intriguing of these is the obscure “Aagula” (Great India) which should take in over $1 million in somewhere around 131 theaters (the virtually unknown distributor didn’t report grosses), placing aorund #13. Unusual among Indian releases, it’s in the Telugu language from the southeastern region of India, with 83 million native speakers, which ranks ahead of French and Italian worldwide. But this regional cinema — which is rarely seen in India outside of its area (and is not part of the Bollywood system) — with a smaller population base in the U.S. on which to draw hasn’t seen the same level of commercial play. “Aagula” — an action thriller with a standard cop vs. the mob plot, like most Indian commercial films running just under three hours –has broken through beyond earlier efforts to reach a North American-based market.

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