Box-Office Preview: 'Maze Runner: Scorch Trials' Hopes to Sprint Past 'Black Mass'

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Still 4 - H 2015
Richard Foreman Jr./Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Still 4 - H 2015

Johnny Depp's 'Black Mass' is counting on a long run throughout awards season versus a big opening; 'Everest' debuts exclusively in Imax and large-format theaters before launching everywhere Sept. 24.

Expect a crowded race at the North American box office this weekend as a diverse mix of films test their appeal with audiences, particularly males of all ages.

Fox's YA film adaptation Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, targeting younger moviegoers, is expected to claim the weekend crown with a debut in the low- to mid-$30 million range. The $61 million sequel opens exactly a year after The Maze Runner surprised with a $32.5 million domestic opening on its way to earning $102.4 million in North America and $238.2 million overseas for a stellar global haul of $340.8 million.

Scorch Trials is already off to a rousing start internationally, where it took in $26 million from select foreign markets last weekend, well ahead of the first movie.

Wes Ball returns in the director's chair, along with actors Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario and Patricia Clarkson. Barry Pepper and Lili Taylor are among those joining the franchise. The sequel picks up immediately after the events in the first film, as Thomas and his fellow Gladers try to survive the Scorch, a desolate, dangerous landscape, while continuing to battle the W.C.K.D.

Johnny Depp's adult drama Black Mass also hits theaters this weekend after several high-profile stops on the fall festival circuit. The Warner Bros. movie, starring Depp as infamous Irish-American mobster Whitey Bulger, is tracking to open to $22 million or better, a solid start for movie that hopes to play throughout awards season.

Warners has had plenty of luck in the past in this arena. Martin Scorsese's The Departed opened to $26.9 million in early October 2006 on its way to grossing $132.4 million domestically, while Ben Affleck's Argo launched to $19.5 million in October 2012 on its way to earning $136 million (both films took home the Oscar for best picture). Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper and rated R, cost $53 million to produce.

Depp, who stars opposite Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch, needs a win after a series of box-office disappointments, including Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger. According to online ticket service Fandango, Black Mass is scoring the most advance ticket sales of any film he's starred in since the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2011.

Two other high-profile adults dramas open this weekend in New York and Los Angeles as awards season kicks off: Denis Villeneuve's acclaimed crime-thriller Sicario, starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin; and Edward Zwick's Pawn Sacrifice, starring Tobey Maguire as chess champion Bobby Fischer and Liev Schreiber as his Russian rival, Boris Spassky.

Lionsgate will open Sicario in six theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday (it opens nationwide on Oct. 2). Pawn Sacrifice, from Bleecker Street, opens Wednesday in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York.

To varying degrees, Sicario, Pawn Sacrifice, Black Mass and Scorch Trials will compete for male attention, along with Baltasar Kormakur's adventure Everest. In an unusual rollout, Everest is only opening in some 540 Imax and premium large-format theaters this weekend before playing everywhere Sept. 25.

Everest's exclusive engagement is designed to highlight the film's 3D format and build word of mouth. Some box office observers believe the movie, inspired by real events and following two climbing expeditions attempting to scale the world's highest mountain, could take in $6 million or more from more than 540 locations, combination of Imax and premium large format.

Everest, which like Black Mass, made its world premiere at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal. Working Title, Cross Creek Pictures and Walden Media partnered with Universal on the $55 million film, with Cross Creek and Walden co-financing.

Universal is handling Everest nationwide, and opens the movie in 35 markets this weekend, including the U.K., Germany, Spain, Mexico, Argentina

Paramount also enters the fray this weekend with faith-based drama Captive, starring David Oyelowo and Kate Mara (the studio acquired the film this spring after working with Oyelowo on Selma). Captive will have a small footprint in terms of screen bookings, and is expected to earn $2 million to $3 million from roughly 800 theaters, in line with last week's opening of faith-based title 90 Minutes in Heaven.

The $2 million film is based on the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols, who took Smith hostage in her own apartment. During the ordeal, Smith turned to Rick Warren's inspirational book, The Purpose Driven Life, for guidance to startling results for both herself and Nichols. Ashley later wrote a book, Unlikely Angel.