Liam Neeson beat Jesus at the box office Friday.
The 61-year-old action star’s jetliner thriller “Non-Stop” took off with $10.6 million on a strong first day that put it on pace for a $30 million opening weekend for Universal. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s “Son of God,” a pared down version of their smash History channel miniseries “The Bible,” rode a wave of grassroot Christian support to a $9.5 opening day and is on its way to a three-day total north of $25 million for Fox.
Both movies received “A-” CinemaScores, were overperforming significantly and will battle for the top spot through the weekend.
“Son of God” remains a wildcard — its Friday total is double what most analysts foresaw — particularly in terms of Sunday, when its faith-based core audience could turn out in force. Projections for the religious saga were always seen as dicey, since the producers skipped traditional marketing and promoted the film directly with church groups across the nation, making it much harder to track.
Either way, the three-week run of “The Lego Movie” at No. 1 will end, though it will pass $200 million domestically this weekend and is up to nearly $285 million worldwide. Warner Bros.’ animated comedy juggernaut, still in a market-high 3,770 theaters, took in $4.4 million Friday and will finish third with around $19 million.
The new projection for Neeson’s PG-13-rated thriller is about $5 million over analysts’ projections and the opening of the first “Taken” movie, which debuted on Oscar weekend five years ago. “Non-Stop” reunites Neeson with “Unknown” director Jaume Collet-Serra and producer Joel Silver. Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o and Julianne Moore co-star in the film, which features Neeson as an air marshal dealing with terror threat on a transatlantic flight. It’s in 3,090 theaters.
The PG-13-rated “Son of God” was benefitting from a massive pack-the-theaters campaign by church groups across the country, and had rung up more than $4 million in presales by the time it opened. Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado stars in the film, which follows Christ from the Nativity through the resurrection. It’s the first big-screen adaptation of Jesus’ life since Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” debuted with a stunning $125 million five-day total a decade ago, and is in 3,260 theaters.
“Monuments Men” and “3 Days to Kill” were battling for fourth place, and both will finish the weekend at around $5 million. George Clooney‘s World War II art heist drama is up to $62 million domestically and $90 million worldwide for Sony. Relativity’s Kevin Costner spy tale should hit $20 million after its second weekend.
Paramount re-released its Will Farrell comedy “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” in 1,179 theaters but few noticed. It took in a soft $415,000 and will total just over a million dollars for the three days.
Disney expanded Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises,” which is nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, from 21 to 496 theaters and it’s on pace for a $1.4 million weekend after taking in $464,000 Friday.
The World War II epic “Stalingrad,” which has earned more than $52 million in its home country Russia, took in a soft $148,000 in its debut on 308 Imax screens and won’t crack a million for the weekend for distributor Sony.