Box Office Preview: ‘Maze Runner’ To Put ‘Tombstones’ In Ground; ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ Debuts

Three new pictures bow this weekend with Fox’s sci-fi action thriller The Maze Runner leading the way. It opens tonight at 10 PM, having already made a strong bow overseas to heavily outpace Divergent and gross $8.5M so far. After this weekend’s bow in the states, the picture will likely have grossed its production budget back — said to be around $35M+ but they got a tax incentive from shooting in Louisiana which brought the net cost down. That’s not including marketing and distribution costs, but this should be yet another profitable film for Fox (which has been on a roll). CGI was also handled out of the U.S. (in Vancouver) through a company called Method. Here’s the thing, Divergent was heavily skewed female so the question is will the boys come out for Fox the same way girls (who tend to go to movies in packs) came out for March 2014 release? The studio needs the young male audiences to be as hot as the girls were on Divergent. So, that’s the question for the weekend. It does have some advantages.

As we reported on Monday, Fox will be able to tap those higher ticket prices from being on 351 IMAX screens. It’s Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games meets a confused mess of a third act, but it has action and is tracking better right now with the young male demo than Divergent. Fox is hoping for a high $20M to low $30M weekend take — we’re thinking a higher — much higher — end of the estimate. If so, it could be in the top five highest grossers of all time for September. We think it will. Easily. Last advantage? Better reviewed than Divergent.

Based on the YA novel by James Dashner, this film stars relative newcomer Dylan O’Brien from MTV’s Teen Wolf. The last film O’Brien starred in was The Internship which opened to $17.3M for Fox last year. This kid has the acting chops to make the film enjoyable and he is backed up by other decent actors like Aml Ameen (The Butler), King Hong Lee, and a grown-up Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the kid from one of my favs Love Actually and, of course, Game of Thrones). So, if the young male demo comes out, it’ll shoot past expectations. This one was directed by Wes Ball and produced by Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Wyck Godfrey (Twilight series), Marty Bowen and Lee Stollman.

Regardless, The Maze Runner is expected to best the latest R-rated Liam Neeson actioner, The Walk Among The Tombstones, a violent film from Cross Creek Pictures and filmmaker Scott Frank (Minority Report, Wolverine). Universal, which is distributing the picture only in the U.S. this weekend, is thinking mid-teens — and, in fact, the comparison film is looking more like The Grey, (which opened to $19.6M in 2012) than this year’s Non-Stop (which bowed at $28.8M). This one is based on the best-selling mystery novel by Lawrence Block. It’s tracking well among much older males so that’s good news for the home entertainment aspect of this title. The budget on this one was $27M. Taking in the  tax incentive it got from shooting in New York, its net cost was about $23M or so. Females are not very interested in this bloody drug dealer tale.

A couple of questions on this one: How many producers does it take to another Neeson actioner? Apparently 4, no wait, 10 … no, um 15 … nope … over 20. How many times can Liam Neeson go to the well with audiences playing the bad-ass action guy? At some point, aren’t movie goers going to look at one these films films and say, “We’ve seen him do that before.” It opens tonight at 8 PM.

lead_largeFinally, the Jason Bateman-Tina Fey, Adam Driver comedy This is Where I Leave You from Warner Bros. is the only comedy in the marketplace and it’s tracking best with older females and is not expected to do much business, but there’s been no comedy in the marketplace for older women since Tammy. It also opens at 10 PM. So, this one could open, albeit soft — maybe $12M?

The second weekend of the thriller No Good Deed has been leading mid-week grosses and may end up around $10M with the second frame of the family film Dolphin Tale 2 less than that. In between those two, will likely be Guardians of the Galaxy which has grossed about $307M to date — the only $300M grosser of 2014. More in the morning when the overnights come in. Next weekend, Dolphin Tale 2 will be pushed aside for Focus Features’ stop-motion animated The Boxtrolls.

The last release featuring the late James Gandolfini, The Drop, is expanding this weekend to 1,185 theaters (from 809 theaters the previous weekend). It’s been doing well mid-week.

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