Liam Neeson and “Taken 3” are going out with guns blazing at the box office, but the highly regarded awards hopeful “Selma” is sputtering in is nationwide expansion.
The final installment of the vengeance series that turned the 62-year-old Neeson into an action hero six years ago opened at No. 1 Friday with an estimated $14.7 million. That projects to a muscular three-day total north of $35 million for 20th Century Fox’s “Taken 3,” which was produced and financed by EuropaCorp,, and it will knock “The Hobbit” out of the top spot after three weeks and easily outpace the weekend’s other wide opener, the civil rights drama “Selma.”
Paramount Pictures expanded its Oscar frontrunner “Selma” from 22 to 2,179 theaters Friday and it finished second with an estimated $3.7 million. That projects to a soft $11.1 million three-day total, under the expectations of analysts and the studio. By comparison, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” opened to $24.6 million last year, but that was in far more theaters (2,933) and August, a less-competitive slot for awards hopefuls.
The underwhelming first day capped a tough week for the drama directed by Ava DuVernay, which was overlooked for top honors at the British Film Academy Awards nominations Friday, after being similarly snubbed by the Producers Guild earlier in the week.
Disney’s musical “Into the Woods,” Universal’s “Unbroken” and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” were battling for third place. Each took in around $2.5 million Friday and should finish the weekend at around $8.5 million.
That will lift the domestic total for “Unbroken,” the Angelina Jolie-directed biopic on war hero Louis Zamperini, past $100 million since its Christmas Day opening. “Battle of the Five Armies,” the finale in Peter Jackson‘s Middle Earth epic from New Line and MGM, is up to more than $235 million after four weeks for distributor Warner Bros., while the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway hit “Into the Woods” will be up to $104 million after its third weekend.
Warner Bros. expanded the Paul Thomas Anderson crime drama “Inherent Vice” into 645 theaters, up from 16 last week, and it took in about $960,000. That projects to $3 million for the weekend, which may not be enough to crack the top ten.
The surge at the box office over the holidays appears to be over. The weekend is running about 14 percent behind the comparable frame last year, when the war saga “Lone Survivor” led the way with a $37.8 million debut.
The opening for “Taken 3” is above the projections of analysts and Fox, who had seen it landing in the $30 million range.
For the weekend, the franchise finale will finish between the debut numbers of “Taken 2,” which opened to $49.5 million two years ago, and the $24.7 million that the original managed on Super Bowl weekend in 2009. Both wound up with around $140 million domestically. And it’s better than the openings of several of the action films that the success of “Taken” spurred, “Unknown,” “The Grey” and “Non-Stop.”
“Selma” impressed audiences as it has critics, and it received a rare “A+” CinemaScore Friday. “Selma” has drawn rave reviews, and is at 98 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes. It has performed strongly and rung up $2 million in limited release since opening in 23 theaters on Christmas Day. But making the mainstream leap looks more challenging for the historical drama based on the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights marches in Alabama, which has been drawn into a controversy after questions surrounding the historical accuracy of the relationship between Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson. .
David Oyelowo stars as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson, Common as James Bevel and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King. Oprah Winfrey has a supporting role and is a producer on the $20 million film, along with Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and DuVernay.
“The Imitation Game,” the Weinstein Company awards hopeful starring Benedict Cumberbatch, was sixth Friday with $7.6 million, which raises its domestic total past $40 million after seven weeks. Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” was next with $6.7 million in its fourth week and is about to hit $100 million after four weeks.
“Annie” nipped the Relativity Studios horror sequel “The Woman in Black: The Angel of Death” for eighth. The Sony musical came in with $4.9 million.to the $4.8 million of “Woman in Black,” which fell a steep 68 percent from its first week. The Will Gluck musical is up nearly $80 million domestically for Sony. Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” rounded out the top ten with $3.7 million and is up to $330 million after eight weeks in release.