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Weekend Box Office: Liam Neeson ‘Unknown’ No Longer As Thriller Bests ‘I Am Number Four’

Weekend Box Office: Liam Neeson 'Unknown' No Longer As Thriller Bests 'I Am Number Four'

Hey, have you heard of “Taken”? Moviegoers (who helped the film gross $145 million domestically even after seeing an expansive worldwide release – take that, piracy!) certainly do. Hence, “Unknown,” the latest in what is becoming the Liam Neeson Action Line, looks poised to do a decent $21 million. The Warner Bros. thriller faced colorful competition, leading one to believe Liam Neeson could generously be considered a solid A-List presence who can get films in his wheelhouse to a $20 million+ opening. Not bad for a 58-year-old Oscar nominee (how has this guy never won?).

The parties with most at stake in “Unknown” were production company Dark Castle, a flailing brand looking to rechristen themselves after their horror-remake approach went sour. They certainly gambled with Jaume Collet-Serra, the director who was behind the camera for “House Of Wax” and “Orphan,” two recent Dark Castle underperformers, but now Collet-Serra is being linked to projects like “G.I. Joe 2.” This buys Dark Castle and superproducer Joel Silver some breathing room, though it would be optimistic for “Unknown” to generate half the domestic business of “Taken.”

Jockeying for a strong position in the top three was DreamWorks’ “I Am Number Four.” This was the first DW outing from Disney since the merger, and the presence of producer Michael Bay and hot-for-some-market-driven-reason director D.J. Caruso suggested that “franchise” was the operative word. The film may or may not draw a profit with international grosses, but profit sometimes matters as much as perception, and when your megabillion dollar merger’s flagship film is the most expensive release of the weekend but not the highest grossing, pants get wet.

The President’s Day weekend should have been enough of a warning that you can’t just pull a franchise (which SHOULD be some sort of phenomenon or zeitgeist-grabber) out of thin air. On this weekend last year, Fox took a shot with “Percy Jackson And The Olympians” and whiffed hard, the film failing to cross $90 million domestic. Similarly, Fox used President’s Day weekend to launch a “Jumper” series with a similarly young cast and sci-fi premise. What’s the difference between all these films? “Percy Jackson” and “Jumper,” both based on a best-selling book series, had much stronger opening weekends than “I Am Number Four,” itself based on a book that apparently hasn’t performed as well as the industry had expected.

Big numbers for the only kiddie film on the market, as “Gnomeo And Juliet” saw only a slight drop from weekend one. Given that kids are out of school, some are predicting the film, benefiting from the 3D surcharge, could finally become the number one movie in America on Monday, ten days after its release. Not much you can say about CG-toons, in that they always do business when given savvy release dates.

After a number one opening, “Just Go With It” tallied off a bit, though the hold was sort of an Adam Sandler standard, with the film packing away $60 million after two weekends. A similar demographic will be courted by “Hall Pass” next week, and the date crowd might be intrigued by the PG-13 rated “The Adjustment Bureau,” but neither is a sure thing, and it looks like “Just Go With It” has the juice to be Sandler’s twelfth $100 million domestic grosser, and thirteenth worldwide. Process that for a second.

Fox gave “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son” a smaller release than the last “Big Momma‘s House” film, which opened to $27 million. But that was five years ago, when Martin Lawrence was still a viable leading man. Since then, he followed the surprising smash “Wild Hogs” with “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” “College Road Trip” and “Death At A Funeral,” so audiences could spot the sense of desperation emanating from the comedian. Lawrence is trying the drag thing one more time in “Skank Robbers” later this year, but this weekend suggests he’s gone to that well far too many times already.

As expected, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” deflated in weekend two. The concert film was heavily frontloaded and as such, the Bieber Fever outbreak was quarantined once the novelty wore off. Bieber still got a movie to $30 million in its opening weekend, and his handlers have made an effort to put him on talk shows and primetime TV, so it’s possible he can parlay this into an acting career, if not at the level of Justin Timberlake than at least in the realm of Miley Cyrus, who has starred in four straight movies that have grossed at least $70 million worldwide. Whatever the case, this film is just part of the brand.

The King’s Speech” comfortably crossed $100 domestically and $200 million worldwide earlier in the week. The Weinstein Company release again posted the lowest audience drop in the top ten and has achieved Juggernaut Status, which means it wears red armor and holds the gem of Cyttorak. With the healthiest box office performance relative to cost amongst the Best Picture nominees, the Weinstein brothers are merely out for pride and for blood at this point. The drama surpassed both “The Roommate” and “The Eagle,” the latter which had a surprisingly unprecedented audience drop, as that duo begins its fade from memory. Capping the top ten was “No Strings Attached,” on the way to a solid $70 million total.

Outside of the top ten, “Black Swan” crossed $100 million, and should actually become a $200 million worldwide hit by the end of its run. Crossing $200 million worldwide was “The Green Hornet,” which is just beginning to do solid international business, while “Tangled” actually leapfrogged $500 million globally, with the momentum to finish at $600. “Cedar Rapids” built off its strong opening weekend with $909k on 102 screens and should start expanding heavily, and “Barney’s Version” had the biggest indie expansion, adding 223 screens and bringing in $683k at 281 engagements.

The Gael Garcia Bernal film “Even The Rain” debuted on eight screens with $53k, while National Geographic’s “The Last Lions” opened at four locations with $46k. The Tom Shadyac documentary “I Am” grabbed $10.5k at one theater, while the sexually explicit drama “Now And Later” only grabbed $1.6k on one screen. Support your local art house, boys and girls.

1. Unknown (WB) – $21.7 million
2. I Am Number Two (Disney) – $19.5 million
3. Gnomeo And Juliet (Disney) – $19.4 million
4. Just Go With It (Sony) – $18.2 million ($61 mil.)
5. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (Fox) – $17 million
6. Chipmunk Cheeked Pop Star: Generic Title 3D (Paramount) – $13.6 million ($48 mil.)
7. The King’s Teeth (The Weinstein Company) – $6.6 million ($103 mil.)
8. The Roommate (Sony) – $4.1 million ($33 mil.)
9. The Eagle (Paramount/Focus) – $3.6 million ($15 mil.)
10. No Strings Attached (Paramount) – $3.1 million ($66 mil.)

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