By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com) - Mobsters, mountain climbers, and teenage racers piled into multiplexes this weekend, lifting the overall box office, but preventing any one film from dominating ticket sales.
"The Maze Runner: Scorch Trails," a sequel to last year's post-apocalyptic young adult hit, fared best. It got off to a solid start by topping charts with $30.3 million. Filmed for $61 million and distributed by 20th Century Fox, the picture bowed in 3,791 locations, receiving intense competition from "Black Mass," which likely contributed to it failing to match or exceed the $32.5 million debut of its predecessor.
"Black Mass," a look Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and his unholy alliance with the FBI, has been hailed as a return to form for Johnny Depp, who had squandered critical goodwill with too many "Mortdecai's" and "Lone Rangers."
Bolstered by a cast of respected character actors and veterans such as Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kevin Bacon cost $53 million to make. Strong reviews helped push the Warner Bros. film to a solid second place finish with $23.4 million across 3,188 locations. That puts it in line with other Beantown crime dramas such as "The Departed," which started with $26 million in 2006 and "The Town," which kicked off to $23.8 million in 2010.
Then there was Universal's "Everest," which opted to give a wide berth to gangster rats and futuristic teens by opening in a special, Imax-only run. The film aped an approach used by "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" in 2011, which debuted to $13.3 million before having its wide release. "Everest" bowed to a sterling $7.6 million across 545 Imax screens, for a per-screen average of $13,867 and a fifth place finish. The $55 million adventure film stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Its reception is good news for "The Walk," the Sony film about tightrope walker Philippe Petit, which is employing a similar Imax-only debut as a way to generate buzz.
The top five was rounded out by Universal's "The Visit," which picked up $11.3 million in its second weekend and third place, and Sony's "The Perfect Guy," which finished with $9.9 million in fourth position. The films have made $42.3 million and $41.6 million, respectively.
That left "Captive," Paramount's attempt to wrangle the faith-based crowds that lifted "War Room" to box office heights, with roughly $1.4 million after bowing on 806 locations. It's a mediocre showing, but given the film's $2 million budget, it doesn't carry a lot of risk. "Captive" is a true story about a woman (Kate Mara) who gains strength from celebrity pastor Rick Warren's inspirational books while being held hostage by an ex-convict (David Oyelowo).
In the indie world, Bleecker Street debuted "Pawn Sacrifice," a look a troubled chess great Bobby Fischer, to $206,879 for a per-screen average of $6,269, while Lionsgate got drug war thriller "Sicario" off to a sizzling start of $146,494 from just six engagements. That translates to a sterling $65,000 per-screen average, the highest this year. "Sicario" expands to approximately 50 theaters next weekend and goes wide on Oct. 2.
Overall ticket sales rose 9% over the year-ago period when the first "Maze Runner" and Liam Neeson's "A Walk Among the Tombstones" topped the box office.