New York - The young-adult adaptation The Maze Runner raced to the top of the box-office with $32.5m, giving a budding franchise a quick start out of the gate.
The 20th Century Fox release easily outpaced the $13.1m debut of Liam Neeson's hardboiled private eye thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones and the $11.9m opening for the ensemble-cast dramedy This Is Where I Leave You, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
The strong opening for The Maze Runner, adapted from James Dashner's science-fiction YA novel, is a big success for a movie that cost $34m to make and was released in the normally quiet month of September. Fox aimed to make the film — about a group of teenage boys mysteriously locked inside a giant maze — the first post-summer event movie, putting it on IMAX and large-format screens.
"Our little $34m-budgeted film is pretty darn strong," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for Fox. "No one had launched a YA title in September. We took a risk, but it paid off.
Aronson said attracting young moviegoers has been "the Achilles heel" of Hollywood in recent years. But the studio has recently found success with relatively low-budget YA releases, like "The Fault in Our Stars," the Shailene Woodley melodrama that made $125m earlier this year despite a budget of just $12m.
"It shows the pitch-perfect strategic planning of Fox," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "Teenagers are probably the most fickle creatures on the planet to figure out. So marketing to this particular group is tricky and there have been a lot of casualties in this YA war."
But The Maze Runner, which drew a 51 percent female audience despite an almost all-male cast, is now a promising franchise. Its opening was further boosted by $37.6 million internationally. Aronson announced Sunday that the planned sequel, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, will bow 18 September next year.
While Neeson's box-office strength has been hard to beat in recent years, Universal's darker, R-rated A Walk Among the Tombstones came in well below the track record established by his Taken series or, from earlier this year, Non-Stop. Neeson stars as a justice-seeking former NYPD detective.
Warner Bros. This Is Where I Leave You, about a large suburban family sitting Shiva for the funeral of their patriarch, boasted an A-list ensemble cast including Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and Jane Fonda.
But such adult fare rarely lights up the box office, even when directed by a filmmaker with a proven record of attracting crowds. The film, adapted from Jonathan Trooper's best seller, was directed by Shawn Levy, who is best known for broader comedies like the Night at the Museum franchise.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at US and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. The Maze Runner, $32.5m
2. A Walk Among the Tombstones, $13.1m
3. This Is Where I Leave You, $11.9m
4. No Good Dead, $10.2m
5. Dolphin Tale 2, $9m
6. Guardians of the Galaxy, $5.2m
7. Let's Be Cops, $2.7m
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, $2.7m
9. The Drop, $2.1m
10. If I Stay, $1.8m
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