‘Scorch Trials’ Outdraws Depp’s Oscar Hopeful in Debut

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” a sequel to the young-adult dystopian thriller from 20th Century Fox, led the North American box office in its debut, outdrawing a new Johnny Depp film that’s seen as having Oscar potential.

“Scorch Trials,” a follow-up to “The Maze Runner” release from a year ago, brought in $30.3 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, Rentrak Corp. said Sunday in an e-mailed statement. “Black Mass,” with Depp playing real-life gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, placed second with $23.4 million.

The “Maze Runner” sequel almost matched the $32.5 million opening weekend take of the first intallment by appealing to young female moviegoers. More than six out of 10 people who saw the new movie were under 25, and 53 percent were female, the studio said in a statement.

Being able to attract a young audience consistently “is important, because they’re so distracted and have so many different delivery systems -- be it their laptop or their phone,” Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak’s senior media analyst, said in an interview. “It’s quite significant they’re going to the movie theater for this one.”

In “Scorch Trials,” the young cast members from its first installment reprise their roles fighting for survival in a dystopian world.

Looking for Clues

Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, and his fellow Gladers are searching for clues about the mysterious and powerful organization that controls their fates. They end up in the Scorch, a barren landscape filled with huge obstacles. In this installment they team up with resistance fighters in their battle against their overlords.

The film garnered a 49 percent positive rating based on critics’ reviews aggregated by Rottentomatoes.com. The original scored 64 percent. The first episode earned $102.4 million domestically and $32.5 million on its opening weekend.

BoxOffice.com was forecasting $38 million in weekend sales for the 21st Century Fox Inc. release.

The first film cost $34 million to make. The new episode had a budget of almost double that at $61 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

“The first ‘Maze Runner’ film was a wilderness saga refitted with robotic monsters,” Michael Sragow wrote in the Los Angeles Times.“ ‘‘‘The Scorch Trials’ is a ‘Mad Max’ film on foot.’’

Oscar Hopefuls

Through the end of the year, studios will be releasing Oscar hopefuls, along with a mix of movies they expect to garner wide box-office appeal. Depp has been touted for a shot at best actor for his work in ‘‘Black Mass.’’

‘‘Black Mass,’’ from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., had a stronger critical reception than ‘‘Scorch Trials,’’ with 76 percent giving positive reviews, according to the website.

The story is set in 1970s South Boston and follows close relationship between FBI Agent John Connolly played by Joel Edgerton, and the mobster Bulger. The aim is for Bulger to help Connolly wipe out the Italian mafia. The story tracks how this unholy alliance spiraled out of control, allowing Bulger to become one of the most feared gangsters in American history.

‘‘The acting here is much stronger and more soulful than I would have expected, and not only from Depp,’’ Wesley Morris wrote for Grantland. It had a budget of $53 million according to Box Office Mojo, with BoxOffice.com forecasting debut sales of $34 million.

Period Films

Period films do well with adult audiences and Depp’s female fans are likely to flock to theaters, according to Gitesh Pandya, editor at Boxofficeguru.com.

‘‘There’s been some Oscar talk for ‘Black Mass’ and Johnny Depp’s performance as one of the best we’ve seen from him in the last few years,” Pandya said in an interview. “This is what makes September such a good month for Oscar contenders because so few movies are out, but it’s refreshing to see Depp’s delivery and the acting chops he’s capable of, after a string of lousy movies he’s done for a paycheck.”

Weekend sales for the top 10 films rose 7.9 percent to $97.1 million from a year earlier, Rentrak said. Sales for the year to date have increased 6.1 percent to $8 billion.

The following table has U.S. movie box-office figures provided by studios to Rentrak. The amounts are based on actual ticket sales for Sept. 18 and Sept. 19, with estimates for Sunday.

                     Rev.    Pct.             Avg./   Total
 Movie              (mln)    Chg. Theaters  Theater   (mln)  Wks
================================================================
1 Scorch Trials      30.3     --    3,791    7,993     30.3    1
2 Black Mass         23.4     --    3,188    7,327     23.4    1
3 Visit, The         11.3    -55    3,148    3,605     42.3    2
4 Perfect Guy, The    9.7    -63    2,230    4,350     41.4    2
5 Everest             7.6     --      545   13,867      7.6    1
6 War Room            6.3    -19    1,945    3,239     49.1    4
7 Walk In The Woods   2.8    -42    2,158    1,274     24.8    3
8 Rogue Nation        2.3    -45    2,202    1,022    191.7    8
9 Straight on         2.0    -50    1,938    1,015    158.9    6
10 Grandma            1.6    148    1,021    1,563      3.8    5

Top 10 Films Grosses

This Week Year Ago Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $97.1 $90.0 7.9

Year-to-date Revenue

2015 2014 YTD YTD Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $8,000 $7,542 6.1 Source: Rentrak Corp.
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