Updated 10:15 a.m. PT Jan. 28
"The Grey" is looking like box office gold.
The film, starring Liam Neeson, took in $6.5 million at the domestic box office Friday, and is on track to take $18.6 million for the weekend.
While that's nowhere near the $25.3 million that last week's box office champ, Sony's "Underworld: Awakening" pulled in during its first weekend, it is about $4 million more than box-office watchers had predicted. And it makes the picture the No. 1 movie in the country.
That's a nice distinction for any movie. Considering this is Open Road Films' second release ever, it is especially noteworthy.
In other new releases, Lionsgate's "One for the Money" took $4.1 million on Friday, putting it in second place at the box office and on track for a weekend approaching $12 million. Summit's "Man on a Ledge" grossed $2.5 million on Friday and is looking at a $7.2 million weekend and a fifth-place debut.
Last week's first and second-place movies are in third and fourth place this week: "Underworld Awakening" took in $3.4 million on Friday and "Red Tails" grossed $2.8 million.
Meanwhile, there was a box office bump for "The Descendants," which took in $1.7 million on Friday — its best single day since Dec. 10, when it grossed $2 million.
The Fox Searchlight movie starring expanded to 2,001 locations this weekend — 1,441 more than last week — and is on track to be the No. 8 film in the country this weekend.
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," also nominated for a best picture Oscar, grossed $2 million on Friday. While that's down about $1.7 million compared to last Friday, it's still good enough to put it at No. 6 in the country.
This is the second week of wide release for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," and it is looking to have a 25-to-30 percent drop compared to last week. Without the nomination, that drop likely would have been 40 percent or more.
The film is expected to easily beat this weekend's other new releases, Lionsgate's "One for the Money" and Summit's "Man on a Ledge."
It's an unusual weekend at the box office. None of the three new movies come from major studios but all three come from high-profile producers. Joe Carnahan, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott produced "The Grey," Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian produced "Man on a Ledge" and Katherine Heigl and Sidney Kimmel produced "One for the Money."
Another quirk of the weekend: Lionsgate is competing against itself. The company bought Summit Entertainment earlier this month. By the time the deal was done, much of the advertising for "Man on a Ledge" had been locked in.
But while both "Man on a Ledge" and "One For the Money" are rated PG-13, they target different audiences. "Ledge" is a thriller and "Money" is an action-comedy.
In limited release this weekend is Roadside Attractions' "Albert Nobbs," which won Glenn Close an Academy Award nomination. It will be at 246 locations. Other Oscar nominees expanding this weekend are "The Descendants," which will increase from 560 to 1,997 locations and "The Artist," which is going fro 662 locations to 900.
While Open Road, which launched last March, would be happy to break double-digits, less conservative box-office watchers outside Open Road believe the R-rated action drama will gross about $14.5 million.
It's not exactly a feel-good film: "The Grey" is about an oil drilling team that finds itself hunted by a pack of wolves after their airplane crashes, stranding them in the wilds of Alaska.
The movie, which Carnahan directed, is tracking well, according to the research firm NRG. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed by NRG reported some awareness of the movie and 38 percent reported "definite" interest in seeing it. Of all the movies opening this weekend, more people — 7 percent of everyone, 11 percent of men younger than 25 and 12 percent of men 25 and older — said "The Grey" was their "first choice."
Women, not surprisingly, were less enthusiastic about the film: 31 percent of all women said they were "definitely" interested in seeing it, but 5 percent of those younger than 25 and 3 percent of those 25 and older said it was their first choice.
Critics generally like the film, which opens at 3,185 locations. The website Metacritic.com, which measures critical response to movies, gave it a strong Metascore of 63.
Open Road, financed by exhibitors AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment Group, released its first movie, "Killer Elite," in 2011.
That R-rated action thriller was a flop, grossing $53 million worldwide on a $70 million budget.
Expect better out of "The Grey."
The other two new movies of the weekend, "One for the Money" and "Man on a Ledge," are expected to take fourth and fifth place, respectively — behind last week's box office champion, "Underworld: Awakening" and "Red Tails." Those two pictures each are on track to take around $12 million.
"One for the Money," Lionsgate's action-comedy directed by Julie Anne Robinson, is projected to gross around $10 million, according to box-office watchers outside Lionsgate. It opens at 2,737 locations.
The movie, which stars Heigl, Jason O'Mara and John Leguizamo, is based on Janet Evanovich's novel. It is about Stephanie Plum, a newly divorced woman who goes to work at her cousin's bail-bond business and is sent on the trail of a former boyfriend — now a police officer who is on the run.
It is a co-production with Lakeshore Entertainment.
NRG says that 29 percent of people surveyed report "definite" interest in seeing "One for the Money." The movie skews heavily toward women older than 25 — 8 percent of whom report that it is their "first choice" and 35 percent of whom report "definite interest" in seeing the picture.
The new movie with the highest awareness level is "Man on a Ledge," Summit's heavily promoted thriller starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Edward Burns, Anthony Mackie and Kyra Sedgwick.
Asger Leth directed the movie, which is about an ex-cop, now a wanted fugitive — sound familiar? — who stands on the ledge of a high-rise building while a police negotiator, played by Elizabeth Banks, tries to talk him down. But as negotiations go on, she realizes he may have an ulterior motive.
The studio expects the movie, which opens in 2,998 locations, to gross somewhere in the high single-digits.
Outside box-office watchers agree, estimating the movie will take in $8.9M.
The movie, which had a budget estimated at $42 million, has a Metascore of 40 — about average.