Young adult saga “The Maze Runner” is getting a big boost from its star Dylan O’Brien, a regular on the MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” as it heads for its box office opening Sept. 19.
His character Stiles Stilinski is a well-liked character on the popular cable TV show. But the simple fact that he’s a guy — unlike Jennifer Lawrence‘s Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games,” Shailene Woodley‘s Beatrice Prior of “Divergent” and the protagonists of nearly every other recent young adult movie — has distinguished it from the pack and could well make a difference at the box office.
“Maze Runner” is based on the first novel in the post-apocalyptic science fiction trilogy of the same name by James Dashner. It’s about a boy whose memory is erased and finds himself deposited into The Glade along with a group of similarly amnesiac boys, forced to train to become Runners, and navigate a dangerous, constantly changing maze. Based on tracking and social media momentum, analysts foresee an opening in the mid-$30 million range, though distributor Fox’s projections are about $10 million under that.
Significantly, it’s showing strong interest among young males. That’s critical because connecting beyond the core young female audience — as “The Hunger Games” films eventually did — is the Holy Grail in the world of young adult movies. The majority of recent young adult films that have underwhelmed — “The Host,” “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” “Beautiful Creatures” and “The Giver” — played to audiences that were dominated by young females.
“The concept of a series based on young men really seemed really fresh and the timing seemed right,” said Wyck Godfrey, a producer who partnered with Ellen Goldsmith Vein and her Gotham Group, which developed the project. Godfrey knows the territory, having produced the “Twilight” movies and this summer’s YA sleeper hit “The Fault in Our Stars.”
“Young adult movies have been the domain of teenage girls for so long, I think one of the goals with this film is to shake that up. I have two teenage sons myself, and I’d love to pull some of these boys away from their XBoxes and get them back into movie theaters,” said Godfrey.
“The Maze Runner” is also getting a full run on the IMAX network. which should underscore its action movie credibility with young men and boost grosses with the premium pricing.
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Having a male lead isn’t the only unusual aspect of “The Maze Runner” that will factor into the commercial fortunes of the film, which is directed by Wes Ball and co-stars Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter.
“We’re looking to do something that hasn’t been done before,” Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson told TheWrap, “and that’s launch a young adult franchise in September.”
The start of fall, with schools opening and football kicking off, is typically a dead zone at the box office, devoid of high-profile projects. But the studios have become increasingly aggressive in terms of expanding their release calendar, and the lack of competition could benefit “The Maze Runner.”
“If the movie’s good and has that groundswell of vibe that ‘Maze Runner’ seems to be building, there’s no reason this date shouldn’t work,” Rentrak senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. He noted that March was traditionally a dormant month until “The Hunger Games” launched in that corridor two years ago.
“I actually think that the fact that the kids are back in school, and can spread the word about the film, will work in our favor,” said Godfrey.
Aronson said that Fox was looking forward to the opening, and not just because “The Maze Runner” appears to be drawing the interest of young males.
“It’s tracking even stronger with young women,” he said.
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