‘Black Mass’ Misses Number One At Box Office

Friday’s box office estimates have been released by film studios and Johnny Depp’s new film Black Mass has taken second place. First place has gone to Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. According to Box Office Mojo Depp’s film earned an estimated $8.815 million including midnight pre-screenings. Meanwhile, Maze grossed $11 million. Another film, Universal Studio’s Everest, opened exclusively on 545 IMAX screens ahead of its full opening next week. This highly unusual strategy still nabbed $2.3 million in box office and the best per screen average in the top 10 films.

Despite Black Mass being far more successful with critics than Maze Runner, it’s darker tone and adult target audience made it a long shot to win the weekend. That said, adult oriented films tend to do better as the weekend runs on (known as ‘legs’ in industry lingo) rather than making more of their money on Friday (which is called ‘frontloading’) so Mass has a chance to catch up somewhat when the weekend’s final numbers come in. It probably won’t be enough to make up the difference, but the race may be closer than it seems right now.

Directed by Scott Cooper, imdb.com describes Black Mass as a biopic, based on a true story.

“The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.”

Depp himself has been earning Oscar buzz for his role for his portrayal of Bulger and Black Mass may be an early contender for Best Picture. As the official trailer shows, Depp was willing to transform his look to play Bulger. It’s a far cry from his usual pretty boy appearance.

Scott Mendelson of Forbes points to an interesting trend. It seems Depp’s box office performance is stronger when he plays criminal characters, even loveable ones, than when he plays more white hat characters.

“There has been a lot of talk by myself and others concerning under what circumstances Johnny Depp is a movie star. With the obvious caveat that some of those $25-$30m debuts are ‘better’ than others (Sleepy Hallow and Into the Woods > Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger) by virtue of budget, inflation, and expectations, it appears that we have to acknowledge that Johnny Depp as an outright criminal is perhaps the key to his box office success. Some of those criminals are dashing rogues (Pirates of the Caribbean, Public Enemies) some are outright monsters (Into the Woods, Dark Shadows, and now Black Mass), but it appears that Rango and Sleepy Hallow are the outliers in the realm of halfway decent Johnny Depp debut weekends.

Mendelson misses the fact that even Depp’s Rango character was something of a rogue, a dishonest self-serving pretender who has to redeem himself by movie’s end.

Oscar buzz is all well and good, but if it doesn’t translate into box office a film can still be considered a failure. However, with a $53 million production budget, Black Mass doesn’t need to be a megahit to be nicely profitable. Estimates for the entire weekend are hovering around $25 million, which might be conservative, and grossing almost half its budget in three days is nothing to sneeze at. Even though studios don’t get to keep all that cash, after all the theaters themselves need to take their cut, they do make a higher percentage of films’ earnings in the early part of its run. All things considered, Warner Brothers should be more than pleased with the opening of Black Mass and can hold out hope it will perform well at the box office in the weeks to come.

[Trailer and image courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures]