Liam Neeson returns to theaters this weekend in the action thriller "A Walk Among the Tombstones."
The film has some steep competition from the young-adult adaptation "The Maze Runner," which is expected to bring in north of $35 million this weekend.
Boxoffice.com projects "Tombstones," based on the Lawrence Block novel of the same name, to make $14 million on its opening weekend, on the low end for Neeson movies but respectable given its R-rating. Neeson's most recent film, "Non-Stop," opened to $28 million in February.
While Neeson's film may not beat out the YA film this weekend, here's why it will probably still be a hit.
The Neeson Formula
Neeson has been a highly successful and versatile actor for many years, but it was his 2009 surprise hit "Taken" that turned him into a bona fide action hero, making him popular with a younger generation. The film had a very basic premise: A retired CIA agent must rely on his "particular set of skills" as he travels across Europe in pursuit of his kidnapped daughter.
Every single Neeson action film since "Taken" has tried to replicate its success, and the plot of "A Walk Among The Tombstones" fits the general formula of "Liam Neeson kicks butt and takes names," which means it should have no problem finding success at the box office this weekend. In "Tombstones," Liam stars as Matt Scudder, a private investigator hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.
It is clear that studios are cashing in on Neeson's late-in-the-game career shift — even the marketing behind these films makes them seem incredibly similar. Neeson stands ominously with a gun in each one, and the poster for "Unknown" literally has the word "TAKE" at the very top, which is certainly no accident.
Take a look at these virtually identical posters:
Neeson's Box-Office Power
There's a reason studios want Neeson in their films. Most of his films are low-risk, high-reward with budgets averaging around $71 million and a worldwide box-office intake average of $213 million.
For films in which Neeson is the sole lead, the difference is even greater. Budgets average $35 million while intake is $202.7 million worldwide on average.
Take a look at the grosses and estimated costs of some of the actor's previous movies.
|Movie||Release||Opening Weekend||Worldwide||Estimated Budget|
|"A Million Ways to Die in the West" (R)||5/30/2014||$16.8 million||$86 million||$40 million|
|"Non-Stop" (PG-13)||02/28/2014||$28.9 million||$202.4 million||$50 million|
|"Taken 2" (PG-13)||10/05/2014||$49.5 million||$376.1 million||$45 million|
|"Battleship" (PG-13)||05/18/2012||$25.5 million||$303 million||$209 million|
|"Wrath of the Titans" (PG-13)||03/30/2012||$33.5 million||$305.2 million||$150 million|
|"The Grey" (R)||01/27/2012||$19.7 million||$77.2 million||$25 million|
|"Unknown" (PG-13)||02/18/2011||$25.5 million||$130.8 million||$30 million|
|"Taken" (PG-13)||01/30/2009||$24.7 million||$226.8 million||$25 million|
The only films on this list with huge budgets are blockbusters Neeson wasn't carrying on his own like "Battleship,""Wrath of the Titans," and "A Million Ways to Die in the West." Action films in which he is the solo lead are usually big hits.
The original "Taken" grossed $226 million worldwide on a budget of $25 million, while its sequel made over $376 million on an estimated $45 million budget. A common denominator among most of these films is a PG-13 rating, which could prove tricky for the R-rated "A Walk Among the Tombstones." However, the $25 million R-rated "The Grey" went on to gross a respectable $77 million worldwide in 2012.
The movie "A Walk Among The Tombstones" simply would not exist if it weren't for Liam Neeson's star power. In an interview with Hitfix's Drew McWeeny, Neeson reveals that writer/director Scott Frank spent many years trying to get the film made, and it wasn't until Neeson, a highly bankable international action star, got on board that the project was finally able to make it to the screen.
Back in May 2012, Deadline reported that the film came together as part of a much larger deal between Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media, two full-stop production companies that had previously collaborated on many films, most recently Ron Howard's "Rush." The three-year deal allows the two companies "to develop, finance, and produce at least two films per year, with budgets up to $65 million."
The continued success of Neeson proves that Hollywood is content with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" model of filmmaking. Without Neeson in the starring role, a B-movie script like that of "Non-Stop" would never get made, but because he got on board, the potentially uninteresting project became a financial success.
Although the film's R-rating ensures it won't reach as broad an audience as Neeson is used to, surprisingly positive reviews and a strong international market suggest "A Walk Among The Tombstones" should be yet another hit.