Scrolling through Netflix or iTunes, there isn’t a genre called “Liam Neeson with a gun,” but there probably should be.
After playing real-life hero Oskar Schindler, Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn and Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul, Neeson delivered a welcome surprise with “Taken” back in 2009. Marketed around the idea of Neeson as action hero badass, the revenge drama made over $226 million worldwide. Since then, Neeson fist-fought a wolf as a badass plane crash survivor in “The Grey” and grabbed the guns again for “Unknown” and “Taken 2.”
“Non-Stop” is the latest Liam Neeson action vehicle to debut in the January/February timeframe and it could be the biggest of all. The box office battle offers the interesting proposition of Neeson vs. Neeson, too: the Irishman is one of the voice actors behind three-time champion “The LEGO Movie.”
Conservative estimates put the opening weekend for “Non-Stop” around $22 million, though some industry experts put the number closer to $30 million. “Non-Stop” made an impressive $720,000 from screenings that began at 8 p.m. on Thursday night.
“Son of God,” the weekend’s other major new release, started two hours later and made a very strong $1.2 million. While at least one website dubbed the weekend “Neeson vs. Jesus,” the context could just as easily be between “Son of God” and “The LEGO Movie” for the runner-up position.
Fandango reported that 94 percent of the folks who purchased tickets through them said they want to see more Bible-based movies (76 percent of them said they plan to see Russell Crowe as “Noah”) while Deadline noted that only 30 percent of “Son of God” ticket buyers had seen box office smash “Frozen,” implying that the majority of the film’s audience aren’t the typical moviegoers, making accurate predictions difficult. To wit: ComingSoon.net put “Son of God” at #3 for the weekend with $18.4 million, Entertainment Weekly put it at #2 ($20 million), and BoxOfficeMojo put it at #1 ($27.5 million).
“The LEGO Movie” has already made $280 million ($188 million of it domestically), so everything else it makes from here is more or less a victory lap and a sequel is already in the works. The rest of the top five should include last weekend’s box office bombs, “3 Days to Kill” and “Pompeii.”
The first flick in the “Divergent” franchise won’t arrive for another few weeks, but a $50 million-plus opening already seems to be in the cards. The two studios behind “The Hunger Games” and “The Twilight Saga” may be the first two to repeat that success, on the heels of many failed Young Adult franchise starters.