New York — The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials edged out Johnny Depp's Black Mass at box office, as the two films split young and old moviegoers in half on the first weekend of the fall movie season.
20th Century Fox's sequel to The Maze Runner earned an estimated $30.3m, according to studio estimates Sunday. While that came in slightly below the debut of the 2014 young-adult dystopian sci-fi original, it counted as a win for a movie that cost $61m to make.
Warner Bros.' Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp as Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, premiered with $23.4m. That's a strong sum for an R-rated adult drama, and it stabilises a bad box-office run for Depp following a string of disappointments including Mortdecai, Transcendence and The Lone Ranger.
The audience for The Scorch Trials was 63% below the age of 25, according to Fox, while 89% of the audience for Black Mass was over 25, according to Warner Bros.
The draw for Black Mass was Depp's icy performance as Bulger, which has garnered better reviews for the actor and some Oscar buzz. Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said that 55% of the audience said in exit polls that Depp was their reason for seeing the movie, which features an ensemble including Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch.
A diverse cast leading to a diverse audience was the key for Scorch Trials, said Chris Aronson, head of domestic distribution for Fox. Wes Ball's adaptation of James Dashner's young-adult novel stars Dylan O'Brien, Ki Hong Lee and Kaya Scodelario. More than half of its audience was made up of minorities. It also performed well abroad, earning $43.3m internationally.
But North American theaters had the distinct feel of fall, with a crowded slate of well-reviewed films — some of them awards hopefuls — opening in more limited release and hoping to build strong word of mouth for longer runs at the multiplex.
Universal's 3-D mountaineering thriller Everest, starring Josh Brolin and Jason Clarke, opened with $7.6m, playing only on 545 IMAX and large-format screens. It expands wide next weekend.
Sicario, the Lionsgate drug-war thriller starring Emily Blunt, Brolin and Benicio del Toro, opened in New York and Los Angeles ahead of its expansion over the next two weeks. In just six theaters, it took in $390 000 with an excellent per-screen average of $65 000.
The fall season, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office data firm Rentrak, got off to a good start, with a wealth of options for moviegoers and well-reviewed releases that can play beyond opening weekend.
"It's about that playability, the long-term conversation on social media that keeps people buzzing about Sicario, Black Mass and other films yet to come," Dergarabedian said. "The movie going habit changes in the fall, not only how and when they go to the movies, but how they talk about the movies and for how long."
Paramount Picture's Captive, starring David Oyelowo and Kate Mara, however, struggled to find moviegoers. The faith-based thriller couldn't follow in the steps of the lucrative Christian drama War Room, grossing just $1.4m in 806 theatres.
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