Liam Neeson's airplane thriller "Non-Stop" soared to a $30 million opening weekend at the box office, holding off a strong challenge from the Biblical saga "Son of God," which rode a wave of grassroots Christian support to a $26.5 million debut.
Both movies over-performed to end the three-week run at No. 1 of "The Lego Movie," which crossed the $200 million mark at the domestic box office and finished third with $21 million.
Neeson's PG-13-rated thriller came in $5 million over analysts' projections and the opening of the first "Taken" movie, which debuted on Oscar weekend five years ago. The impressive showing further establishes the box-office credentials of the 61-year-old action star, who has had recents hits with "Unknown" and "The Grey."
"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. The audience broke down nearly evenly between men and women and was 65 percent over the age of 25. They liked it better than the critics, giving it an "A-" CinemaScore.
"Non-Stop" is the third Universal film of 2014 to open No. 1 at the domestic box office, following "Lone Survivor" and "Ride Along."
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's "Son of God," a pared down version of their highly rated History channel miniseries "The Bible," benefitted from a massive pack-the-theaters campaign by church groups across the country. It more than doubled the projections of most analysts, but handicapping the religious saga was always seen as dicey, since the producers skipped traditional marketing and promoted the film directly with church groups across the nation, making it hard to track.
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.
Fox distributed the PG-13-rated "Son of God," which played female, older and very strongly with Hispanics. Women made up 62 percent of the audience, 82 percent was over the age of 25 and 22 percent were Hispanic. "Son of God" remains a wildcard and the estimates for Sunday -- when its faith-based core audience could turn out in force -- will be watched closely.
"Monuments Men" edged "3 Days to Kill" for fourth place. George Clooney's World War II art heist drama is up to $65 million domestically and $95 million worldwide for Sony after its $5 million fourth week. Relativity's Kevin Costner spy tale was just behind with $4.9 million and is at $20 million after two weeks.