‘Maze Runner: Death Cure’ topples ‘Jumanji’ at box office while Oscar noms win

Movie studios will never seem to give up going at their strategy is one of two ways with massive companies like Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Studios digging deep into their endless supply of superheroes and rebooting franchises to make huge big-budget films hitting all demographics. Studios like Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox operate on a truly old-fashioned strategy of putting out a big mix of films hoping that the ones that catch fire will offset the losses from the other ones.

Sounds old fashioned and it is as studios continue to be several steps behind on what today’s moviegoers want. This past weekend was proof positive that appeared to pay off for 20th Century Fox as they ran the board on the top 10 box office film sales in North America.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure” is the highest grossing film of the weekend, but according to studio estimates Sunday, many moviegoers also chose the first weekend after Oscar nominations to catch up with some awards contenders like “The Shape of Water” which had its highest-grossing frame with $5.7 million.

Taking top spot, “The Death Cure” took in a higher than expected $23.5 million. It’s the third and final installment in the “Maze Runner” series based on James Dashner’s dystopian young adult novels and the weakest opening of the three (the first opened to $32.5 million and the second to $30.3 million). Part of that may be attributable to stalled momentum and a two-and-a-half-year gap between the second and third film. “The Death Cure’s” release was delayed a year by 20th Century Fox after star Dylan O’Brien’s on-set injury in early 2016.

It was still enough to push “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” back down to second place for the first time in three weeks. Down only 16 percent, “Jumanji” added $16.4 million, bringing its total to a robust $338.1 million.

“It was going to take a big franchise film to knock ‘Jumanji’ off the top of the chart,” said comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

In third place, the Christian Bale Western “Hostiles” (directed by Scott Cooper) expanded wide to 2,816 theaters in its sixth weekend and earned $10.2 million. The film may have been overlooked by Oscar voters, but it received solid reviews from both critics and audiences. The Hugh Jackman original musical “The Greatest Showman,” which has had very slow building word of mouth, kept going strong in fourth with $9.5 million, down only 11 percent and now boasting a total of $126.5 million.

Many audiences also took advantage of the added theater counts of many Oscar hopefuls following nominations Tuesday. Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers drama “The Post,” from 20th Century Fox, placed fifth in its third weekend in wide release with $8.9 million.

Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance “The Shape of Water,” which had a leading 13 nominations for Fox Searchlight, added 1,001 theaters which put it back in the top 10 in its ninth weekend of release. The film is nominated for best picture, best director, best actress (Sally Hawkins), supporting actress (Octavia Spencer) and supporting actor (Richard Jenkins), among others and has grossed $37.7 million to date.

Fox Searchlight also added theaters for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which scored seven Oscar nominations Tuesday, and earned $3.6 million over the weekend (an 88 percent boost). And Focus Features upped the theater count for “Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread,” which both took in $2.9 million after getting 6 nominations each.

“The Oscars offer the greatest marketing hook in the history of movies. These are films that would usually be played out,” said Dergarabedian. “For audiences, it’s a validation. If anyone is on the fence, a best picture nomination is a pretty good way to push people in the direction of the movie theater.”

With six weeks to go until the Oscars, there is plenty of time to catch up on the best picture nominees, but they won’t be without competition — the third installment of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise opens Feb. 9 and on Feb. 16 the highly anticipated “Black Panther” roars into theaters.

Rounding out the Fox portfolio was the animated “Ferdinand,” which collected about $1 million, for a new total of $80.5 million ($240 million worldwide).

As good as the weekend was for Fox, Sony’s “Jumanji” sequel demonstrated why studios prefer to focus on all-audience movies with built-in marketplace awareness. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” took in about $16.4 million in second place, for a new total of $338.1 million and global ticket sales of $822 million, according to comScore. It will likely take all six of the Fox releases to beat that one result.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” $23.5 million ($62.6 million international).

2. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” $16.4 million ($17.7 million international).

3. “Hostiles,” $10.2 million.

4. “The Greatest Showman,” $9.5 million ($10.1 million international).

5. “The Post,” $8.9 million ($9.4 million international).

6. “12 Strong,” $8.6 million ($1.9 million international).

7. “Den of Thieves,” $8.4 million ($846,000 international).

8. “The Shape of Water,” $5.7 million ($3.2 million international).

9. “Paddington 2,” $5.6 million ($2.3 million international).

10. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” $4.2 million ($4.8 million international).

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:

  1. “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” $62.6 million.
  2. “Secret Superstar,” $19 million.
  3. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” $17.7 million.
  4. “Coco,” $13.6 million.
  5. “Forever Young,” $11.8 million.
  6. “Ferdinand,” $11.2 million.
  7. “The Commuter,” $11.1 million.
  8. “The Greatest Showman,” $10.1 million.
  9. “Wonder,” $9.9 million.
  10. “Darkest Hour,” $9.6 million.