Box Office: Liam Neeson and ‘The Grey’ Reign Over the Pack

By  · Published on January 30th, 2012

Once again Liam Neeson stood up to the January graveyard slate of movies, and once again Liam Neeson took charge. The Grey took top honors this weekend, proving that the combination of Neeson and good, adult action is the way to go when you want to make some decent coin. It wasn’t up to the standards of films like Taken ($24.7m opening weekend in 2009) and Unknown ($21.8m opening weekend in 2011). Considering the R rating, the lack of star power outside of Neeson (Dermot Mulroney isn’t what he used to be, and the wolves themselves don’t have a great agent yet), and Joe Carnahan not being the golden boy when it comes to box office returns, The Grey’s $20m is still a respectable debut.

Neeson isn’t losing clout as quickly as Katherine Heigl, whose One For the Money came in at #3 with $11.7m. That’s slightly lower than expectations, but looking at Heigl’s track record, her opening numbers seem to be whittling down further and further. Since Killers in 2010, Heigl’s opening numbers have progressively gotten smaller and smaller, dropping from $15.8m to $14.5m for Life As We Know It in 2010 and $13m for New Year’s Eve early last month. A change of pace for Heigl might be in order, or, when all else fails, the DVD/Blu-Ray and VOD market is not a bad option to take.

Sam Worthington might not need to take that option just yet, though. Sure, Man On A Ledge didn’t have solid numbers this weekend. Any time the star of Avatar has a film open to less than $10m, you have to wonder how much he rates when it comes to box office numbers. But this isn’t a first for Worthington. The Debt dropped in with $9.9m last year. That wasn’t a film that was expected to be a huge, box office winner, and neither was Man On a Ledge despite its near 3000-screen release. Worthington’s name will be just fine, especially with films like Wrath of the Titans and the inevitable Avatar 2 out there on the horizon.

Oscar contenders were serious winners this weekend, with 3 of the 9 Best Picture nominees having increased numbers from last weekend. The Descendants, which expanded to just over 2000 screens, had a 176.1% increase while Hugo and The Artist had increases of 142.6% and 39.8%, respectively. It makes sense for those three to increase while films like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and War Horse had their typical weekend drops along with all the other films in release. The Descendants, Hugo, and The Artist are the three films that have the strongest chances of walking away with Best Picture gold come February 26th, and the general public seems to be aware of this. Neither Hugo nor The Artist are on 1000 or more screens but expect that fact to change within the next month.

Here’s how the weekend broke down:

  1. The Grey – $20m NEW
  2. Underworld Awakening – $12.5m (-50.6%) $45.1m total
  3. One For the Money – $11.7m NEW
  4. Red Tails – $10.4m (-44.6%) $33.7m total
  5. Man On a Ledge – $8.3m NEW
  6. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – $7.1m (-28.9%) $21.1m total
  7. The Descendants – $6.5m (+176.1%) $58.8m total
  8. Contraband – $6.5m (-46%) $56.4m total
  9. Beauty and the Beast in 3D – $5.3m (-39.1%) $41.1m total
  10. Haywire – $4m (-52.5%) $15.2m total

We were expecting the first weekend to come under $100m here, and we got it. $92.3m is the precise number, still a disappointment in the broad scope of box office health, but still up from the same weekend last year when The Rite came out on top. Dwindling returns for all the stars involved this weekend whether it be Neeson, Heigl, or Worthington, were a big factor while films like Underworld and Red Tails had their expected and sizable drops. Even Haywire had a bigger drop than anticipated, and those little differences between expectation and reality can quickly turn a $100m weekend into something much lower.

Next weekend might not be much of a saving grace, either, with the big openers being lesser known films like The Woman in Black, Big Miracle, and Chronicle. Chronicle may be the surprise hit of the first quarter this year, but it will be interesting to see how much positive buzz can carry it without a solid marketing drive and stars behind it.

We’ll be back later in the week to see how the weekend is shaping up.