‘Maze Runner’ Should Outmuscle Liam Neeson’s ‘Tombstones’ and ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ at Box Office

Fox is aiming for a $30 million opening and hopes to launch young adult franchise with its sci-fi adaptation starring Dylan O’Brien

Youth will be served at the box office this weekend, when the sci-fi thriller “The Maze Runner” is expected to beat out two wide openers that target older moviegoers: Liam Neeson‘s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the comedy “This Is Where I Leave You.”

Fox’s young adult saga, adapted from James Dashner’s bestselling book trilogy, could top $30 million in its debut say the analysts. “Tombstones” is looking at the mid to high-teen millions for Universal Pictures, they say, while Warner Bros. is targeting a $15 million debut for its R-rated “This Is Where I Leave You.” Kevin Smith‘s horror comedy “Tusk” will open in about 500 theaters via A24 Releasing, as well.

Young adult adaptations have proven risky business in recent years. For every blockbuster like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” there have been several misses. “Vampire Academy,” “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” “The Host” and “Beautiful Creatures” are among the recent films based on best-selling teen books that failed to translate at the box office.

Also read: Adios, ‘Twilight’ — Studios Stockpiling Young-Adult Novels in Search of the Next Blockbuster

Dylan O'Brien, a regular on MTV’s”Teen Wolf,” is the star of “Maze Runner.” His fans from that popular show will give the film a boost, and so will the fact that he’s a guy, unlike the protagonists in most YA movies. In the film, O’Brien’s character awakens to find himself trapped with a group of other young men in a lethal labyrinth and must plot his escape. 

“We’re hoping it makes those date night decisions easier,” said Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson. “When someone suggests going to the movies, nobody’s going to argue.”

If “Maze Runner” can connect with young males as well as young women — and tracking suggests it will — Fox will have another hit on its hands, particularly since the production budget is a relatively modest $34 million. The studio had a great summer and is just ahead of Disney in terms of market share for the year, according to Box Office Mojo.

Also read: Why the Dylan O'Brien Factor Will Boost ‘Maze Runner’ at Box Office

“We’re looking to do something that hasn’t been done before,” Aronson said, “and that’s launch a young adult franchise in September.” It’s a gamble, since anything over $30 million would put “Maze Runner” among the biggest openings ever in this month, typically among the slowest at the box office. “Hotel Transylvania” is the previous best with $42 million two years ago, while last year’s “Insidious Chapter 2” is second with $40 million.

Wes Ball makes his directing debut on “Maze Runner,” which co-stars Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter. Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey (“The Fault in Our Stars”) are producers on the film, along with Ellen Goldsmith Vein and her Gotham Group, which developed the project.

“Maze Runner” will be in a healthy 3,598 theaters nationwide, including 351 IMAX theaters and 360 Premium Large Format screens. Both of those will bring upcharges on tickets, and should further enhance the film’s action cred with fan boys.

The social media signs are strong for “Maze Runner,” which nearly double those of “The Giver” on both Facebook and Twitter, according to BoxOffice.com. They trail those of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” but both those had considerably larger book sales. There aren’t a lot of reviews yet, but the early notices have been largely positive, and it was leading advance sales for the openers at online brokers Fandango and MovieTickets.com on Wednesday.

Also watch: Liam Neeson Displays More Killing Skills in ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones’ (Video)

“A Walk Among Tombstones” is based on the novel of the same name by Lawrence Block, and features Neeson as ex-New York cop Max Scudder, hired by a drug dealer to find his kidnapped wife. Dan Stevens, Brad Holbrook and Ruth Wilson co-star.

Neeson and Universal connected earlier this year with the airline thriller “Non-Stop,” which opened at No. 1 with $28 million in February and went on to take in $91 million domestically. As with that one, older action fans are the target demographic, and Neeson is a proven commodity for that group having scored with the “Taken” movies and “The Grey” as well.

“Tombstones” is a long shot to match the opening of “Non-Stop,” in part because it is R-rated rather than PG-13, has a darker tone and faces tougher competition.

Written and directed by Scott Frank, “A Walk among the Tombstones” was produced by Jersey Films’ Danny DeVito, Double Feature Films’ Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher, Exclusive Media’s Tobin Armbrust and Cross Creek Pictures’ Brian Oliver. Universal, which is distributing in the U.S. only, will have it 2,713 theaters. Entertainment One is handling Canada.

Also read: Jane Fonda Flashes Drivers With Her ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ Breasts (Video)

“This Is Where I Leave You” will be the first comedy to hit the marketplace since “Let’s Be Cops” in mid-August.

Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Rose Byrne, Jane Fonda, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver top the ensemble cast for director Shawn Levy. Driver, a star on TV’s “Girls,” may have the most heat of any of the actors given his upcoming role in “Star Wars: Episode VII.”

Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the novel upon which the film is based, handled the screenplay. The plot follows four squabbling siblings who reunite at their childhood home after their father dies.

“This Is Where I Leave You” should connect with older moviegoers, providing word of mouth is positive. The studio hopes it will have some legs, and if it does it will wind up in the black, because its production budget is just $20 million.

Warner Bros. will have it in about 2,750 theaters.

Also read: ‘Tusk’ Review: Kevin Smith‘s Walrus Monster Horror Comedy a Baffling Mishmash (Video)

A24 Films is releasing writer-director Kevin Smith‘s quirky and R-rated “Tusk,” which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, in around 500 theaters.

The plot was inspired by one of Smith’s Smodcast podcasts, and involves a mysterious seafarer (Michael Parks) in Bitfrost, Manitoba, who takes a podcaster (Justin Long) hostage and attempts to turn him into a walrus. The podcaster’s pals (Haley Joel Osment and Geneisis Rodriguez) team up with an ex-cop (Johnny Depp) to investigate.

This one has a higher profile and should do better than Smith’s last outing, “Red State,” another horror film which was released on video after a short specialty run in 2011.