Inside Pulse Box Office Report: Liam Neeson No Longer Unknown

Call it the Clint Eastwood Effect. Liam Neeson has been a consummate actor for years. Beginning in the ’80s in productions like Excalibur and Krull, Neeson would get some tutorials on what it took to be a bad-ass with bit roles in The Delta Force (where he would learn from Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin) and The Dead Pool (Clint Eastwood’s last go-around as “Dirty” Harry Callahan). The lessons learned would pay off for the Oscar nominee when he headlined Sam Raimi’s Darkman and Rob Roy. Years later he would mentor a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bruce Wayne.

But it wasn’t until Taken that moviegoers realized that Neeson was a force to be reckoned with. That film grossed a surprising $145 million in the United States. Surprising in the fact that it was accomplished during the typical dead period for new releases (January) and because it had already been released everywhere else in the world except for the continental U.S. Two years later, Liam Neeson returns to bad-ass mode in Unknown, a PG-13 thriller that doesn’t look all that different from Jason Bourne’s amnesia episode, except that instead of Matt Damon we have a 58-year-old trying to figure out who he is. On this President’s Day weekend, the film looks to take $22 million for the three-day period and an estimated $26 million for the four days.

That has to be a relief for producer Joel Silver and production company Dark Castle. The shingle behind horror releases Orphan and House of Wax, it needed a hit in the worst possible way. While Unknown probably won’t catch fire like Taken did, if it manages to do half the business, studio Warner Bros. would consider it a success. As well it should, since they targeted the right demos (trailers in front of Unstoppable, True Grit; TV ads during sporting events) to make it so.

Coming in at number two was Number Four (as in I Am Number Four). The project is DreamWorks’ first since merging with Disney. The ads have it marketed as a smaller Michael Bay film (he serves as producer) with D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) in the driver’s seat. The problem is that the trailers and TV spots should have pushed it more as a Twilight-like movie. Had the ad reps been smarter then it could have spawned the sequel it already sets up and control the teenage demos for the next several years.

In previous President’s Day weekends, studios have tried to launch movie franchises with the likes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Jumper. Neither became box office hits. But to their credit, these movie adaptations from best-selling novels had much stronger openings than I Am Number Four. Guess aliens aren’t in this season. Maybe the month of March will be kinder with the release of Battle: Los Angeles.

I don’t think many would have predicted that Gnomeo & Juliet would be at $50 million after two weeks and yet here it is. Kids get an extra day this weekend and are sure to want to drag their parents to see a bunch of gnomes re-enact William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The film is getting a sizable boost from the 3D surcharge. Not bad for a kiddie flick that was just dumped into theaters.

Last week’s number one, Just Go With It, took it in the tail pipe this weekend, dropping three places. Adam Sandler’s film is at $60 million after two weekends. All it means is that Jennifer Aniston will still get work in Hollywood. Studios that just look at her career box office numbers and they a number of successful comedies. But they totally overlook the other factors that made them successes. Honestly, when was the last time Jennifer Aniston carried a movie by herself? Watch out for next week’s box office as the Farrelly brothers’ Hall Pass tries to take away from Adam Sandler’s core audience.

Whoever at Fox decided a third Big Momma should be greenlit needs to get the boot. Five years after the last Big Momma’s House sequel, Martin Lawrence is back in drag again. The problem is that Martin Lawrence isn’t a viable leading man anymore. Actually, a number of his co-stars from the two BMH movies are getting more face time. This includes Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard (both who would go on to earn Oscar nominations after Big Momma’s House) as well as Chloe Moretz and Zachary Levi. One was a kick-ass heroine and the other stars on NBC’s Chuck. Lawrence’s last good film was the Death at a Funeral remake, but that was more of an ensemble comedy, where he shared top billing with Chris Rock.

A week after Bieber Fever swept across the movie world, it looks like the fever has subsided. Opening in second place, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was a frontloaded smash with a $30 million opening. But this weekend it lost nearly 54% of its audience. Ouch.

The King’s Speech finally made it to $100 million and $200 million worldwide earlier in the week. In terms of cost vs. gross it is the best performing of the ten Best Picture nominees this year. The film looks to add to its total once it collects a few Oscar statues next Sunday (read Kubryk’s Monday Morning Critic column to see his picks). Nearing the bottom of the top ten were The Roommate, which has been a small hit for Screen Gems, and The Eagle, a period action drama that starred Channing Tatum. Either Tatum has a hell of an agent or the actor wanted for the role was unavailable and Tatum was the fourth or fifth name on the list.

No Strings Attached rounds out the top ten. The comedy is closing in on $70 million after five weeks in release.

Outside of the top ten, Black Swan crosses $100 million; The Green Hornet makes it to $200 million worldwide; and Disney’s Tangled surpassed $500 million. In terms of indies, Cedar Rapids expanded to 102 locations and collected $909k for the weekend. Barney’s Version had the largest expansion of any movie in release, adding 223 screens. The Paul Giamatti-starring film has only amassed $2 million over six weeks (it has a production budget of $30 million). National Geographic’s The Last Lions opened at four locations with $46k.

1. Unknown – $21.7 million
2. I Am Number Four – $19.5 million
3. Gnomeo and Juliet – $19.4 million ($50 million overall)
4. Just Go With It – $18.2 million ($61 million overall)
5. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son – $17 million
6. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – $13.6 million ($48 million overall)
7. The King’s Speech – $6.6 million ($103 million overall)
8. The Roomate – $4.1 million ($33 million overall)
9. The Eagle– $3.6 million ($15 million overall)
10. No Strings Attached (Paramount) – $3.1 million ($66 million overall)

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