(Photo by Open Roadt/courtesy Everett Collection)
After a major film debut with 1981’s Excalibur, Liam Neeson spent the rest of that swingin’ decade slowly climbing the acting ladder. (See him randomly in Krull, The Mission, The Dead Pool, and more, for example.) But after holding his own opposite Patrick Swayze in 1989’s Next of Kin, Neeson was at last upgraded to star for Sam Raimi’s dark superhero movie Darkman…where he spends most of the movie disfigured and fully covered in bandages. Still, Darkman was a financial success, especially for an original superhero IP in this era, and Neeson carried on with lending his baritone gravitas in dramas like the Certified Fresh Husbands and Wives.
In 1994, Neeson nabbed his only Oscar acting nomination with the monumental Schindler’s List, which would go on to win Best Picture for producer Steven Spielberg, who of course also got Best Director. Neeson took on another significant title historical role a few years later with Michael Collins, before entering the pop cultural fray as the decidedly unhistorical (though we suppose it depends on who you ask) Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. And after that, just into the 21st century, Neeson appeared in Gangs of New York, Kingdom of Heaven, and Batman Begins. A resume that includes working with Raimi, Spielberg, Allen, Lucas, Scorsese, Scott, and Nolan? Sounds like that’d be a career peak for most…
And yet 2008’s Taken was still to come, which would transform Neeson into the go-to mid-budget action guy, create a cottage industry of similar flicks to follow in its wake. Some were pretty good (Cold Pursuit, A Walk Among The Tombstones), others came out decent (The Commuter, Non-Stop), a few were god-awful (Taken 2, Taken 3), and some were one was amazing (The Grey).
We also recently saw Neeson’s softer side resurface with Ordinary Love, his first romantic film since 2003’s Love Actually and one of the best-reviewed films of his career, proving he remains as versatile as ever. To celebrate his birthday, we take a look back on all Liam Neeson movies ranked by Tomatometer!
They’ve been a long time coming, but Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are reaching the climax with Fifty Shades Freed, opening wide this Friday. And if history is any indication (Grey and Darker are 25% and 10% respectively on the Tomatometer), Freed won’t be hitting the spot with critics, prompting this week’s gallery of the most Rotten movie trilogies ever.
Clive Standen just wrapped filming on NBC’s spring series Taken, in which he plays former Green Beret Bryan Mills, the man with a particular set of skills. Those skills made Mills famous when actor Liam Neeson played the character in the 2008 Taken film and its sequels.
From Executive Producer Luc Besson, the 2017 TV prequel stars Standen as a younger Mills dealing with personal tragedy as he sets off on his CIA career and hones those skills.
But first, the British actor had to polish his courtly manners for his role as Rollo, sibling to King Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) in History’s Vikings, which returns for its midseason premiere in November.
When we last saw him in April in episode 10 of season 4, Rollo was enjoying the adoration and appreciation of the people of Francia after driving back the Viking horde led by none other than Ragnar. He’s a formerly wild and woolly Viking in the French court who’s been tamed (somewhat) and groomed (sort of) by his princess wife, Gisla (Morgane Polanski).
Clive Standen: We left him being crowned by the king and being called Caesar. He’s seemingly got everything he could possibly have ever wanted and ever dreamed that he could succeed at: He has the princess that genuinely loves him. He has a whole people, a whole realm of people that back him and believes in him. And he has that king, King Charles (Lothaire Bluteau), who’s like a father figure he never had. So now, he really has stepped out of the shadow of Ragnar Lothbrok, accomplished so much, and got so much faith within both Viking society and within Francia.
But as we all know, when you want something for so long and you never really achieved it, you have no idea how it’s going to feel when you get it. So may be a case of the grass is not greener on the other side. Is it all it’s cracked up to be or is he going to be in the middle of a Viking midlife crisis? And rather than be the Ferrari or Porsche that the modern man often pines for in a midlife crisis, it’s going to be the longboat maybe that Rollo is missing and wanting.
It’s still a tricky road for him going into the second part of the season. He was born to raid and fight — those are his own words from season 1. With the responsibility of being the Duke of Normandy and having the whole realm of Francia under his wing, is he going to be allowed to fight? Is he going to be too important? Is he going to be allowed to flex his muscle, so to speak? So, maybe all those type things start to get in the way of his satisfaction and happiness.
RT: The show has been so successful in showing how his background and his character clashes so greatly with that of his wife, but she came around to him and embraced that sort of wildness of him.
Standen: As much as they love each other and as much as there is a genuine connection between Gisla and Rollo, I think the one thing that worries her and probably worries himself that deep down is whether his Viking roots are still embedded in his psyche from an early age. If you get brought up in religion from birth and it’s a very conflicting religion from the one he’s now embraced, is it going to come back to haunt him? When everyone in Francia hears thunder and lightning in a storm, is it thunder and lightning to Rollo or is he still hearing Thor?
I think that worries Gisla a little bit: whether he really has put his Viking past behind him. You can change and teach someone the fashions of the time and the etiquette, but religion is a big thing, and I’m not sure once you believe in these gods, can you truly just leave them behind. That may be one of the confrontations the two are going to have going forward as a power couple.
RT: Rollo has had so many ups and downs and so many disappointments, then he comes to this point where his power and influence explodes, but he has to give up everything in order to have that.
Standen: I think he had all of his chips on the table. When he first came to France in season 3, he didn’t really realize what an uphill struggle it was going to be. Being offered the princess, the title, the land, it seemed like a win-win to him at the time. But he didn’t really realize the last time these people had seen him, he was the marauding crazy bear berserker running down the streets of Paris murdering people. And these are the same people that are meant to embrace him as Count Rollo. I don’t think he realized what an uphill struggle it was going to be when learning the fashion, the etiquette, the discipline of being a ruler. When he realizes the princess is someone that he’s fallen for, I think that was the incentive, and that was what I was attracted to in season 3 is that he did it all for love.
It think now he’s mastered that, he’s transformed himself completely, entirely, and I think it’s unfair to say that he — It’s funny when a lead character of a TV show speaks and the audience believes, they never doubt it. Like in real life, just because someone says something out loud doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they mean, or necessarily that’s what they believe. So when Ragnar turns around to Rollo on the boat and says, “When everyone wanted you dead, I kept you alive, and you betrayed me. You betrayed your people,” and we have to an extent. But Rollo has done so many things for Ragnar over the years. He’s had his face cut to pieces in season 1 to protect his brother’s whereabouts. He lied and fought for him. There’s so many times where Ragnar has just kept him down and kept him in his shadow, that now Rollo is well and truly, almost like a phoenix from the flames, is just going to reinvent himself till he can shine.
I don’t think he necessarily has betrayed his people or left his people, because they never were his people. He was never allowed to be one of Ragnar’s people within Kattegat. He was always kept on the sidelines. If anything, he’s going home because he’s found his people. He’s found someone that loves him and admires him and is his rock within the relationship. He’s also got people that genuinely embrace him as a ruler and respect him and enable him to spread his wings and be his true self and explore who he can be.
So I kind of think of it more as he’s gone home, than he’s betrayed and left his brethren.
RT: If you apply the formula of the character’s life to say, just a modern anybody anywhere, how scary and difficult it would be to completely uproot yourself and put yourself in an entirely new culture and thrive. It’s an interesting arc for anyone who’s ever felt sort of out of their element, in their element. You know what I mean?
Standen: When I was offered the character by Michael Hirst and his troupe, right back at the beginning of my journey, I’d read the first two scripts and I realized what a base person Rollo was. In that second episode, he’s seen raping a slave. He’s very selfish, he’s very self-centered, and he lives on the margin. I’d done a lot of research on the role before day one of shooting, and I’d realized who this man was in history, and he’s worthy of the history books. He’s far more famous, has accomplished far more real things, genuine things in Viking society within the time period than Ragnar Lothbrok or any of the other Vikings ever did.
So he seemingly on paper, and in the written words in the history books, seems to be this ruler, this duke of Normandy, this great leader, and I couldn’t understand why Michael had written him so base. But also that was the challenge and the incentive to play the character, because I really knew how big an arc it was going to be. How I’m smashing this character down to pieces in the beginning, and I’ve got to piece him back together slowly over season after season, turn him into this man that is worth of being the great, great, great grandfather of William the Conqueror.
RT: Why do you think that Michael Hirst wrote him so base? Is there truth in that characterization of him?
Standen: To be fair, history books, in most of them, the truth lies in the middle somewhere. Take Rollo as an example. Many historians writing about Rollo over the ages, and sometimes he’s written in the sagas. He has his own saga in Iceland, which is about Rollo the walker, which paints him into a man who’s stealing from the king, and he gets banished, finds his way; it’s like a fairy tale story.
Then there’s other documentation that comes from Dudo of Saint-Quentin, who was an historian writing 400 years after Rollo had lived, who was writing for the current Duke of Normandy. So he’s been commissioned to write the lineage of the current Duke of Normandy, so he’s obviously, it’s going to be full of propaganda, because he’s going to write Rollo to be this amazing leader, this perfect man, because he wants to show off where the current Duke of Normandy comes from.
So you can’t really take that as being true, and you also can’t believe that necessarily some of these Viking characters are fighting dragons or orcs and things as well. You kind of have to find the real person in the middle of it, because there’s so much propaganda involved in the history books. Vikings were one of the few cultures that didn’t write anything down. They were illiterate. So most of what was recorded about the Vikings was written by Christians in the invaded country. History is usually recorded by the invaders, not the invaded, but in this case it was. It was the Christian monks that reported on the Vikings being these horrible, marauding devils who came from the ocean that raped and pillaged the land. But you haven’t heard the Vikings side of it. And it’s the same when it comes to the characters.
Michael starts him off at the base level because the drama needs to go somewhere. But it’s also as simple as, at the writing, you’ve got two brothers playing against each other, and you need to make very clear very quickly which one the audience has to root for, which is Ragnar Lothbrok. So you make one brother a little bit more base and a little bit more living around the margins. Every Viking was raping slaves and things. They had slaves and they were allowed to do what they wanted with them. Just because you see Rollo doing it on screen doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the only one to be doing it. It obviously lets the audience know that because you don’t see Ragnar Lothbrok do it, then you’ll be rooting for him.
The long answer I feel is that Michael actually wrote Rollo to be a 50-year-old cousin of Ragnar Lothbrok in the beginning. Because the biggest artistic license we take with history really in the show is that Ragnar and Rollo were never brothers in history. They lived nearly a hundred years apart, but they both had an extremely amazing adventurous story to tell, so to get them both in the drama, what better device than to make them brothers.
I was offered the role of Rollo, and it changed to become a younger character and the brother of Ragnar. So I suppose that’s where it came from, because he was probably always meant to be the slightly older, jolly, crazy Viking.
RT: What can people expect in the next few episodes that they’re going to see between Ragnar and Rollo. Will they have much interaction at all? Can you say? Or no?
Standen: I think Rollo and Ragnar, even if they don’t share as much screen time as they used to, they probably have far more of a connection now. I think Rollo’s absence at the end of first half of season 4 is the catalyst for Ragnar’s evident downfall. He’s come to Paris. He’s tried to be too big for his boots, for want of a better phrase. And Rollo has sent him packing. He’s also been addicted to drugs, and there’s nothing like your brother smacking a few, seven bells into you to kind of get you off the drugs.
So he’s going back, and now I think his sons are growing up, and they kind of want to travel their own path, just as Rollo did. And now he’s gone from one brother who wants to step out of the shadow and know what he’s worthy of and capable of, and that’s the way that Ragnar dealt with it, by fighting him on the battlefield, to try to reign him in and contain him and punish him. But he’s going to go back to four other sons who are going to want to do the same thing. Who are going to want to escape the name of Ragnar Lothbrok. They want to fly the nest. So it’s kind of almost the beginning of the end for Ragnar, his trip up the Viking totem pole. I think Rollo is always going to be there to haunt him, even if he’s not there physically.
RT: I don’t know if it’s premature, but do we know anything about season 5? Is it too early? Can’t say anything? I noticed you have a new series. So —
Standen: An amazing series. It kind of nearly killed me. I’ve only just finished. It’s my first week off. I’m spending the whole time off just trying to recover. Long hours. It’s Taken. I don’t know how much I can say about it, but I can tell you a little bit. Taken is the prequel to the films you may have seen with Liam Neeson, but it’s not a direct prequel in time frame, as it’s set in 2016. It’s a younger Bryan Mills.
In the pilot, you very quickly see the same kind of character that you see in the film, where something traumatic and tragic happens in his family, and Bryan is a one man wrecking ball who tries to go out of his way on his own to try and put it right. But he hasn’t got that particular set of skills yet. He’s a rough diamond, and the CIA, Christina Hart, played by Jennifer Beals, and her vice-ops team are watching him closely and using him as bait, if anything. But then they see this man with heart and a kind of work in progress, and by the end of the pilot, they kind of take him on under their wing and then recruit him into this black-ops team. So it’s about how he acquires that particular set of skills.
It’s written by Alex Cary, who wrote most of the episodes of Homeland up until now. He’s a fantastic writer. It’s really written in the real world. It’s not a crazy silly action show. It’s what I pride myself on in Vikings as well. In Taken, everything this man does is real. He’s a spy. He’s not going to be running and doing back flips and spin-kicks up the walls like has been in some of these silly action films that have just been full of sound and fury. They signify nothing to the real world kind of situation whether these guys can be in and amongst every one of us right now protecting America and sweeping the dirt under the carpet.
It’s very different than anything out there at the moment, I think. It’s got the fast pace of a show like 24. It’s relentless, but it’s also got the integrity and the real world scenarios of a show like Homeland.
The character is Bryan Mills, and his main super power — if he has one — is forward momentum and the desire to protect people. When most people freeze and clam up and run in the other direction, he goes forward and gets the job done. So it’s brutal. I’ve been throwing myself in front of cars and doing assisted Krav Maga, close combat fighting with stunt men that are far bigger than me. It’s exciting. I can’t wait. It’s going to be on the 27th of February on NBC, Monday night.
RT: I’m really stoked for you. That’s such a great property.
Standen: My time is here, but we are doing 20 episodes of Vikings. I know that they’re only on episode 10 right now. Episode nine, I think. That’s all I can say. There’s nothing, just because I’m doing another show doesn’t mean I’m not on the other show. I just means I might be really, really busy.
RT: It’s better to be really, really busy than not busy enough. That’s so exciting. The movie Patient Zero is also coming out, yes?
Standen: I’ve been so busy with Taken, I literally have been doing 18- to 20-hour shoots on Taken, so I really haven’t had a life other than just taking my kids to school after a night shoot with no strength, then kissing my wife good night. You might know more than me.
RT: What does the next year look like for you?
Standen: I’m excited for people to see Taken, I really am. It’s the first time I’ve had this, I’m in every scene. It’s a standalone leading character, and Bryan Mills is such a great character in the first film with Liam Neeson. I got to meet him, which is kind of iconic for me. I’ve always been a massive fan of Liam Neeson and now I’m kind of stepping in his boots. I’ve put everything I possibly can into to it.
It’s a network show, and it’s got half the budget of some of these big massive epics. But I think we have such a great team and I do all my own stunts, within reason. I mean obviously some of the car chase stuff is just too dangerous for me to get involved in, piling up and spinning cars down the road. But all of the fight scenes and all of the stunts, running, jumping, climbing trees kind of stuff is all me, and I’ve really put everything I possibly can into it. And a lot of the skills I learned growing up — I’ve been an international Muay Thai boxer, and I’ve done lots of stunt work before, so I’ve kind of put it front and center in this job.
And also some of the stuff that I’ve learned through Vikings, about getting the camera on the action, just feeling the pain and actually getting — If the actor is involved in all of the action, you can really connect. You can see the anger, the cowardice, the fear, whatever emotion he’s going through. There has to be a story through the action or otherwise it’s meaningless. And that’s what my problem is with a lot of these big action films, they shoot the back of the stunt man’s head all the way through it and you can’t connect with the character.
I’m very proud to say I’ve done everything myself on this. They have moments where they put the camera right bang in the center of the action, and you can see Bryan Mills, you can feel his pain, you can feel his hurt. Because it is one of those things, he’s a little wrecking ball. I’m really proud, and I can’t wait for people to see it.
I think it might offer something a bit different, even the character himself, I think, is full of heart. He’s not as suave as James Bond. He’s not as tall as Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible, but they’ve all got the wise-cracking lines. They’re all a bit too cool for school, where Bryan is just a normal guy and everyone can relate to him. That’s why I think the film was so successful. He’s just a guy. He’s a dad and his daughter has been kidnapped, and he’ll do everything in his power to get her back, and you’re with him on that journey.
I think that’s what Alex Cary, the writer of the Taken TV show, is so good at. He takes you on a journey every week. You feel like he’s just like you and I. He has a few extra skills up his sleeve. But you feel his pain, you feel emotion and empathy for him because he’s real. He’s not tall and suave. He trips, he falls, he gets back up again. He’s a gentleman, and an honorable and decent person with a good moral compass.
Hart and Johnson: The world’s two unlikeliest megastars join forces this week for Central Intelligence, playing former high school classmates who reunite and get embroiled in international action courtesy of the CIA. Since its inception in 1947, Hollywood has committed plenty of celluloid around the agency’s foundation of espionage and top-secret missions, inspiring this week’s gallery: the best and worst CIA agents in movie history.
The booming North American box office was ruled by two stars who have successfully rebranded themselves in recent years with Liam Neeson’s action sequel Taken 2 remaining in first place for a second week in a row while Ben Affleck’s hostage crisis thriller Argo led a five-pack of new releases with a solid debut in the runner-up spot. Also opening well was the new horror hit Sinister in third as the overall marketplace was once again sharply ahead of last year’s grosses for a third straight weekend.
Audiences powered Taken 2 into the top spot again as the kidnapping hit grossed an estimated $22.5M in its sophomore frame pushing the ten-day tally to a strong $86.8M. The Fox release played like a typical action sequel falling 55% from its better-than-expected $49.5M debut. The decline was far greater than the 17% dip that its predecessor enjoyed in February 2009, but that was a leggy sleeper hit that moviegoers found over time thanks to sensational word-of-mouth. Taken 2 is on track to finish its domestic run with $135-140M which would put it just shy of the $145M of Taken. This is the first time Neeson has ever been the solo anchor of a number one hit over back-to-back weekends.
Audiences around the world continued to line up for the actor’s special set of skills as Taken 2 grossed an estimated $41M from international markets for a global weekend of $63.5M. The sequel has amassed $132.8M overseas and a stellar $219.6M worldwide to date.
Ben Affleck’s hostage thriller Argo enjoyed a solid debut in second place with an estimated $20.1M from 3,232 theaters for a good $6,225 average. The R-rated film based on the true story of a CIA agent’s covert operation into Iran to rescue Americans in hiding during the hostage crisis won top marks from both film critics and paying audiences alike. Reviews were glowing across the board and audiences polled by CinemaScore gave a rare A+ grade which bodes well for the film’s long-term playability. Set in the aftermath of the 1979 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Argo skewed extremely old and more female. Studio research showed that a whopping 74% of the audience was over age 35 and 54% were women. Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman acted along with Affleck who played the lead.
Argo did not reach the heights of Affleck’s last film The Town – another critically acclaimed drama with Oscar buzz released in the fall. That one, also released by Warner Bros., opened to $23.8M and a $8,322 average in September 2010 on its way to a $92.2M final. Despite being showered with awards buzz at the time of its release, it failed to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination which many industry experts predicted it would earn. With its more contemporary story and younger cast, Town played a bit younger. Argo could find itself with better legs thanks to its older audience plus it seems likely to score more points with Academy voters. Argo’s pro-America theme should continue to play well at the box office during this election season with all types of voters and the next two weekends will offer very little direct competition so solid holds are likely.
The new fright flick Sinister scared up the best opening for any horror film in ten months and placed third for the frame with an estimated $18.3M. The Summit title released by new owner Lionsgate averaged a stellar $7,222 from 2,527 theaters and was even the number one movie in the country on opening day beating Taken 2 by $425,000 on Friday before taking a drop on Saturday while all other films saw gains. The R-rated chiller stars Ethan Hawke but was sold more on its behind-the-scenes team with materials promoting that it was from the makers of the wildly successful Paranormal Activity films and Insidious.
That helped the well-reviewed Sinister post big numbers upfront but grosses fell 8% on Saturday and the C+ CinemaScore grade indicates the usual fast-burning horror road ahead – especially with Paranormal Activity 4 opening this Thursday night starting with 9:00pm shows on both conventional and IMAX screens. Exit polls indicated a young adult audience as 67% of the crowd was in the 18-34 age range while 54% was male. Sinister beat out recent openings for horror titles like August’s The Possession ($17.7M) and September’s House at the End of the Street ($12.3M).
Sony claimed the next two spots with a hit and a miss. The animated comedy Hotel Transylvania collected an estimated $17.3M in its third weekend, down 36%, pushing the cume past the century mark to $102.2M. It’s now the 13th $100M+ domestic grosser for Adam Sandler over the past 14 years. Though not sold as a Sandler vehicle, the spooky toon features the comedian voicing the main character Dracula. With Halloween still more than two weeks away, Hotel should continue to thrive at the box office and surpass $140M.
The funnyman’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry co-star Kevin James stumbled with his new broad comedy Here Comes the Boom which opened in fifth with an estimated $12M from 3,014 locations for a lukewarm $3,981 average. The PG-rated pic about a teacher who enters Mixed Martial Arts to earn money for his school played to a mixed crowd of families and general audiences and with a male skew. Reviews were mostly negative, though critical comments generally play a small role in the commercial playability of movies like these. Boom was produced by Sandler’s Happy Madison production company and directed by Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy). On the bright side, it earned a good A grade from CinemaScore though that does not guarantee legs in the weeks ahead.
In its second weekend of wide play, the college comedy Pitch Perfect dropped a reasonable 37% to an estimated $9.3M for a cume to date of $36.1M for Universal. The hold was certainly good, but not too impressive considering the very high exit polls it got from audiences. Still, the $17M production should finish up as a nice moneymaker in the $60M range before overseas and other ancillaries are factored in.
Disney’s stop-motion toon Frankenweenie fell by 39% in its sophomore round to an estimated $7M – another good but not exceptional hold for a quality film. The Tim Burton creation has grossed $22M in ten days and may be headed for a disappointing $40M final. The sci-fi pic Looper got hit hard falling 48% to an estimated $6.3M giving Sony $51.4M to date.
Competition for adult audiences proved to be too fierce this weekend for the well-reviewed crime saga Seven Psychopaths which opened poorly in ninth place with just $4.3M, according to estimates. The CBS release averaged a weak $2,889 from 1,480 playdates and will have a hard time as it tries to expand in two weeks to more of the country. Studio research showed that 62% of the audience was male and 71% was over 25. The CinemaScore was a decent B+. With Taken 2, Argo, and Looper to choose from, the target audience for Psychopaths found more high profile options to go with. Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson led the ensemble cast for the R-rated film.
The indie drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring Harry Potter’s Emma Watson jumped into the top ten in its national expansion grossing an estimated $2.2M putting it in tenth place. The Summit film widened from 221 to 726 locations and witnessed its per-theater average drop to a mild $2,983. Total to date is $6.2M.
Audiences rejected the Ayn Rand story Atlas Shrugged Part II which debuted outside the top ten despite a wide release in 1,012 theaters grossing an estimated $1.7M for a dismal $1,700 average. The opening weekend gross was identical to the bow that Part I generated in April 2011 however that one was released in less than one third of the theaters with only 299 sites for a more solid $5,640 average. Part II was backed by a larger investment into marketing and distribution but fans mostly ignored it.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $119.2M which was up a hefty 64% from last year when Real Steel remained at number one with $16.3M; and up a scant 2% from 2010 when Jackass 3D opened on top with a then-record $50.4M.
Liam Neeson rocked the global box office with his much-anticipated kidnapping sequel Taken 2 which scored the best opening ever for an action film in the September-October corridor grossing an estimated $50M. The Fox hit debuted in 3,661 theaters and averaged a spectacular $13,657 per location. The PG-13 film doubled the $24.7M bow of its predecessor which was released on Super Bowl weekend in January 2009. Reviews were mostly negative, however audiences disregarded critics and came out for Neeson who proved once again his ample starpower. Since Taken, he has rebranded himself as the thinking man’s action hero and ticket buyers have responded. This is the actor’s second time anchoring a number one hit this year following The Grey which debuted to $19.7M in January. He also hit number one last year in Unknown which bowed to $21.9M.
Taken 2, which involves a kidnapping plot to capture Neeson’s retired CIA agent character as well as his ex-wife and daughter who are on holiday together in Istanbul, played broadly as males made up 52% of the audience. 56% was 25 and older while the CinemaScore grade was a B+, respectable for a sequel. Friday started red hot with $18.5M, Saturday inched up 3% to $19.1M and Sunday is estimated to drop 35% to $12.4M. Action films in the fall are often affected by football on Sundays, but with Monday being the Columbus Day holiday, the studio is expecting continued solid results. Taken 2 performed much like a summer action film as movies of this genre have never opened close to $50M at this time of year. The biggest openings to date for action films in the months of September and October have been $33M for 1998’s Rush Hour and $36.5M for 2002’s Red Dragon which was a suspense thriller, but marketed to an adult action crowd.
The jump in opening weekend sales for the new Taken was similar to what the second Jason Bourne film did. The original installment The Bourne Identity debuted to $27.1M in June 2002 while the sequel The Bourne Supremacy jumped 94% to $52.5M for its debut in July 2004. Taken 2 and Supremacy both benefited from the good will that their predecessors generated during their leggy runs at the box office. People who found the films after the first three days made sure that the second time around they came out on opening weekend for another adventure with a character they grew attached to. Both franchises feature gritty action anchored by a solo hero with lethal skills. The third Bourne film soared even higher at the box office. No word yet on a third round of Taken although it would certainly make financial sense.
International moviegoers also lined up for Liam Neeson as Taken 2 grossed an estimated $55M from mostly openings in new territories. The global gross now stands at $117M with plenty more to come. It has been a busy year for Neeson. He has been on the big screen in 2012 with all of his top-grossing characters – Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars Episode I 3D release, Ra’s Al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises, Bryan Mills in Taken 2 & Zeus in Wrath of the Titans.
Last weekend’s most popular film Hotel Transylvania dropped down to second place but still attracted a huge audience of paying customers. Sony’s PG-rated monster toon grossed an estimated $26.3M, which would be impressive as an opening weekend, and dropped by a reasonable 38%. After only ten days, the Adam Sandler-led film has spooked up a stellar $76M and could be on track to end its domestic run in the area of $140M. With nothing for kids opening until after Halloween, the road ahead looks bright for Hotel.
The college comedy Pitch Perfect expanded nationwide and landed in third place with $14.7M following its potent limited bow last week. Universal’s PG-13 pic about an all-female a cappella group averaged a good $5,320 from 2,770 theaters with holdover locations dropping by only 26%. The cume for the low-budget $17M film is now $21.6M on its way to $55M or more. Studio research showed that women made up an overwhelming portion of the audience as 81% of the crowd was female. 55% were under 25 and the film connected primarily to teen and young adult females. The studio is hoping that positive buzz will broaden the audience over the weeks ahead. Males often avoid films like these upfront, but can get drawn in down the road after hearing many recommendations from friends as was the case with Universal’s Bridesmaids last year.
The well-reviewed sci-fi actioner Looper enjoyed a good hold in its second weekend grossing an estimated $12.2M for a 41% decline. The Sony release has taken in $40.3M in ten days and looks headed for a final tally of around $70M.
Opening poorly in fifth place was Tim Burton’s animated film Frankenweenie with an estimated $11.5M from 3,005 theaters for a mild $3,827 average. It was the third 3D creepy comedy toon aimed at kids in the last two months and the worst performer on opening weekend. August’s ParaNorman opened better with $14.1M while last week’s Transylvania ended up opening much better than expected with $42.5M providing intense competition this weekend since both were aimed at the exact same crowd.
Despite having much better reviews, Frankenweenie was a less mainstream film with its black-and-white and claymation style making Hotel the more popular choice for families looking for a pre-Halloween laugh. The CinemaScore for the Burton pic was a decent B+ and with the pumpkin holiday still a few weeks away, the PG-rated film has a chance to show some legs if good word-of-mouth spreads. Its story about a boy who reanimates his dead dog made the appeal more narrow so strong buzz will be needed for Disney to find long-term success against its competitors.
Dropping 49% to an estimated $4M was the cop thriller End of Watch which has collected $32.8M so far for Open Road. Clint Eastwood’s Trouble with the Curve followed with an estimated $3.9M, down 47%, for a $29.7M total for Warner Bros. The horror film House at the End of the Street fell 48% to an estimated $3.7M putting the Relativity release at $27.5M.
The acclaimed drama The Master held up well slipping only 31% to an estimated $1.8M for The Weinstein Co. which has grossed $12.3M to date. Disney and Pixar rounded out the top ten with its 3D release of Finding Nemo which took a sharp hit tumbling 62% to an estimated $1.6M for a $39M sum. That boosted the lifetime tally to $378.7M.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $129.7M which was up a sharp 62% from last year when Real Steel debuted at number one with $27.3M; and up 69% from 2010 when The Social Network remained on top with $15.5M.