The film begins with a young boy, Thomas, taken in by Ava Paige and troops from the organization WCKD, alongside other abandoned children, after being dropped off by his mother for his own safety. Years later, shortly after being rescued from the maze, Thomas and the remaining Gladers - Newt, Minho, Teresa Agnes, Frypan, Winston, and Jack are taken to a facility run by Mr. Janson. He explains that the facility is a safe haven, protecting them from WCKD, the Flare virus and the Cranks, and provides them clothes, food, and sanitation, where other survivors of multiple mazes are also present. Thomas becomes curious about their activities and manages to find out what is really happening behind the closed doors. With help from Aris Jones, the first maze survivor to end up in the facility, it is revealed that WCKD's leader, Ava, is still alive and that Mr. Janson is working for WCKD, as they discuss about the experiment on the Immunes and that Janson has yet to find the Right Arm, a resistance group located at the mountains. The group, including Aris, escapes the facility, as Janson orders his WCKD troops to track them down, where they find themselves in the deserted outside world - the Scorch.
The group arrive at an abandoned marketplace, where they first encounter the Cranks, humans zombified by the Flare virus. In the process, Winston gets infected by one of them, and Jack is killed by another. When morning comes, they find the remains of the city in ruins and that WCKD is still searching for them. Winston's infection gets worse, forcing the rest of the group to leave him alone to die by shooting himself, preventing his transformation. The group continues to venture the desert until one night, while sleeping, Thomas wakes to discover a civilization off in the distance. As a thunderstorm emerges, they run to an abandoned facility to take shelter. Minho gets struck by the lightning on the way but survives. They manage to enter the place, only to find out that the facility was filled with chained Cranks. The group meets Brenda and Jorge, who lead a dangerous band of survivors and have used the Cranks as their own guard dogs. When the two find that the group had come from WCKD and is looking for the Right Arm, the two agree to take them to the Right Arm, abandoning their group of survivors. Moments later, WCKD, led by Janson, storms the place, only for the facility to be destroyed by Jorge's explosives, however, Thomas and Brenda are left behind as the rest have escaped with Jorge. Thomas and Brenda manage to escape the Cranks, only for Brenda to get infected by a Crank in the process. Thomas experiences a flashback of when he and Teresa were working for WCKD, in which Thomas tries to warn Teresa of WCKD's plans, only for the two to be separated by WCKD's troops. As Thomas and Brenda reunite with the rest of the group, Jorge interrogates Marcus, a survivor who secretly works for WCKD, into revealing the whereabouts of The Right Arm.
The group eventually arrive at The Right Arm's relief camps, where other innocent survivors are present, and are greeted by Vince, who leads the Right Arm and is in charge of deciding whether they can stay or not. As Brenda's infection gets worse, Vince threatens to shoot Brenda, only to be stopped by Mary Cooper, a former WCKD scientist who reveals that Thomas was their informant. As Mary halts Brenda's infection using an enzyme cure, Mary explains that the enzyme can only be harvested from an Immune's body, not manufactured, and that arguments over the methods of manufacturing the cure with Ava led to Mary's departure from WCKD. That evening, Teresa calls WCKD of her location, believing that WCKD's motivations are good, leading to an ambush by WCKD. Ava and Janson arrive and confront the Right Arm before WCKD troops captures survivors for experimentation, including Minho, while Janson shoots Mary dead. After Thomas and the Right Arm fend the WCKD troops off, Ava, Janson and Teresa retreat with their captured survivors. With only a fraction of survivors left at the site, Thomas plans an infiltration into WCKD and is determined to take them down to save his friends and save civilization, as his friends and the Right Arm agree to help and prepare to fight back.
On October 13, 2013, almost a year before The Maze Runner's release, it was reported that Fox had started work on The Scorch Trials. It was revealed that T.S. Nowlin – who had recently worked on the Fantastic Four reboot – would adapt Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, taking over from Noah Oppenheim, with returning director Wes Ball supervising Nowlin's script.
The early development of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials suggested to many that Fox was confident in the potential success of The Maze Runner. On November 19, 2014, John Paesano was confirmed to return to score the film. Creature designer Ken Barthelmey returned to design the "Cranks" for the film.
On September 26, 2014, Aidan Gillen was cast as Janson, also known as Rat-Man. On September 30, 2014, Rosa Salazar signed on to the cast as Brenda. Within the next few days, Mud star Jacob Lofland and Giancarlo Esposito joined the cast, playing Aris Jones and Jorge, respectively. Nathalie Emmanuel was cast as Harriet, co-leader of Group B, on October 22, 2014, and Katherine McNamara as the other co-leader on December 22. On November 3, 2014, there were two additions to the cast, with Lili Taylor as Mary Cooper, a "doctor who helps Thomas and the Gladers", and Barry Pepper as Vince, "a survivalist who is one of the last remaining soldiers of a legendary unit called the Right Arm".
On July 25, 2014, Ball announced at San Diego Comic-Con International that the studio wanted to start shooting in fall 2014, should its predecessor become a success when it hit theaters.
On August 31, 2014, Ball announced they were "about nine weeks out from shooting". He also revealed "we are in New Mexico right now. We’ve got a crew and stages. We are rapidly approaching our shoot time. The sets are being built. A lot of the same crew is coming back. Most of the cast is coming back, except for the ones who were killed [in the first film]. The script is really coming along". A week later, Ball told BuzzFeed that "we’ve got stages, we’ve got crews coming in, Dylan [O’Brien] will be back in a few weeks, we’re building sets, and the script is being written. It’s a bit of a race this time because we’re cautiously optimistic, but we’re feeling excited we’re about to do something that’s way more sophisticated, way more grown up, and really set up a saga here."
Principal photography commenced on October 27, 2014 in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Filming finished on January 27, 2015, lasting 94 days.
Composed by John Paesano, the soundtrack was released on September 11, 2015.
On August 31, 2014, Ball revealed he is hoping "the movie will be out in about a year". On September 21, 2014, it was announced the film would be released on September 18, 2015 in the United States. The film was released in Barco's multi-screen immersive movie format Barco Escape in across 25 countries with approximately 20 minutes of the film converted into the format. It was also released in the Dolby Vision format in Dolby Cinema in North America.
At San Diego Comic-Con International 2014, Ball released the first piece of concept art for the film. Six stills were released on March 11, 2015.
The first official trailer was released on April 23, 2015, at 20th Century Fox's CinemaCon. However, it was not released online at the same time, but the 1 minute and 44 second teaser trailer premiered before Pitch Perfect 2 in May 2015. The trailer was released publicly on May 19, 2015. On July 10, 2015, a 30-minute sneak peek was screened at San Diego Comic Con International, with Ball, Dashner, and O'Brien also at the screening.
The Scorch Trials was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on December 15, 2015.
As of January 4, 2016, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials has grossed $81.7 million in North America and $230.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $312.3 million, against a budget of $61 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film opened simultaneously with the crime films Black Mass and Captive. Preliminary reports predicted the film to open with takings of around $34–36 million. It made $1.7 million from its late night screenings—55% ahead of the first film's $1.1 million—from 2,900 theaters and an estimated $11 million on its opening day, which is lower than its predecessor's opening day. It finished off the weekend with $30.3 million from 3,796 theaters which is lower than its predecessor's $32.5 million (-7%) opening in 2014. Nevertheless, the film opened at No. 1 at the box office ahead of its competitor Black Mass. Premium large formats comprised $2.75 million (9%) of the opening gross from 270 PLF screens, while Cinemark XD contributed $825,000 of that figure in 87 screens. The film relied on younger audiences, with 65 percent of the audience under the age of 25 and females making up 53 percent ticket buyers. Also noteworthy was that Fox didn't have the IMAX screens like it did with the first installment, as they were all devoted to Everest which was getting a week-long "sneak preview" release in IMAX and large-format screens. But they did have 270 PLF screens, which made up 9% of the overall gross. Deadline.com reported that Fox was nevertheless happy about the result. The franchise follows a similar trajectory to The Divergent Series which dipped slightly from its first installment ($54.6 million) to second ($52.2 million) earlier this year. Still, both the movies prove "the consistency of the young-adult audience," says Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak's senior analyst. "They're not growing at a huge rate, but we're also not seeing a massive drop-off." In its second weekend, the film fell by 53% to $14 million slipping in third place behind Hotel Transylvania 2 ($47.5 million) and The Intern ($18.2 million). In comparison, The Maze Runner dropped 46% in its second weekend earning $17.4 million in 2014. The Scorch Trails's 10 day gross stood af $51.69 million in relation to its predecessor's $57.9 million 10 day.
Internationally, The Scorch Trials was released in a total of 76 countries. It was released overseas a week before it opened in the U.S., and earned $26.7 million in its opening weekend from 21 markets in 5,586 screens and in all markets, outperforming its predecessor. It debuted at second place at the international box office, behind Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. In its second weekend, it expanded to 41 additional markets and earned a total of $43.2 million from 12,699 screens in 66 markets, opening at No. 1 in 34 of the 41 markets as well as topping the international box office charts. In South Korea, it had the biggest opening for Fox of 2015 with $7.2 million from 804 screens. That's 41% higher than its predecessor's opening. France posted the highest opening for the film with $8.5 million followed by South Korea ($7.2 million) Russia and the CIS ($5.2 million), the United Kingdom, Ireland and Malta ($4.9 million), and Mexico ($4.4 million). In terms of total earning, its largest market outside of the U.S. are France ($25 million), South Korea ($19 million) and the United Kingdom ($13.2 million). It opened in China—its last market—on November 4 and grossed an estimated $19.77 million on 4,945 screens in its five opening weekend ($14.6 million over three days) which is 60% above its predecessor's opening. It has grossed a total of $29.5 million in China making it the biggest market for the film, followed by France ($25.3 million) and South Korea ($19 million).
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials received mixed reviews from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 47%, based on 131 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The site's critical consensus states, "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is an action-packed sequel at the cost of story, urgency, and mystery that the original offered." Metacritic gives the film a score of 43 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
The main criticisms of the film were its narrative, particularly its changes from the source material, and lack of character development. Forbes said the film suffered from "middle movie syndrome", claiming that it did not offer an introduction nor a finale. The Wrap stated that, "it doesn’t offer much plot or character development". Stephen Kelly of Total Film said, "Scorch Trials ambitiously opens up its world with mixed results: gripping action, so-so script." Walter Addiego of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "there’s lots of eye candy, and the pace is fast, but somehow the movie falls short."
However, some critics considered it to be an improvement over its predecessor, highlighting its action sequences and performances. John Williams of The New York Times wrote, "the many chases and ludicrous narrow escapes offer respectable doses of adrenaline", and Brian Truitt of USA Today said, "Maze Runner's action, suspense and twists give movie fans of all ages a chance to embrace their inner on-the-run teenager." Rafer Guzman of Newsday said, "the teen dystopian franchise continues to play rough, and now even rougher, with satisfying results." Bilge Ebiri of Vulture said "essentially, The Scorch Trials makes up for the humdrum Apocalypse of its first half by going a little bonkers in its second."
In March 2015, it was confirmed that Nowlin, who co-wrote the first and wrote the second film, has been set to adapt the third book, The Death Cure. Ball confirmed that, if he returns to direct, the film will not be split into two films. On July 9, 2015, it was revealed that filming is set to begin in February 2016. On September 16, 2015, it was confirmed that Ball would return to direct the third film.
Filming was scheduled to start in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on March 14, 2016. Following lead Dylan O'Brien's severe accident on set, it was later rescheduled to film between March and June 2017 in South Africa for a January 26, 2018 release.