The Lego Movie’s successful reign at the top of the box office is poised to come to an end this weekend, as two new releases featuring high-profile men – ageless action star Liam Neeson and timeless figure of fascination Jesus Christ, played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado – open wide. While most pundits agree Lego will take third place to both Non-Stop and Son of God, they’re less sure which of the latter will earn the top spot.
On the one hand, Non-Stop is the latest suspense thriller to feature Liam Neeson with a gun, kicking butt but not so much bothering to take names, later or otherwise. This persona has resonated with movie-goers, who made a hit out of the film that featured Neeson’s breakout action role, 2008’s Taken, and showed up in solid numbers to Unknown (2011) and The Grey (2011), both of which opened to roughly $20 million. Given the strong marketing push behind Non-Stop, which included many commercials throughout the winter Olympics, not to mention its bid for female patronage in the form of actresses Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey’s” Lady Mary) and Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), the movie’s opening could well exceed Neeson’s last two films. Twenty-five million dollars or more seems likely.
But then we have wild card Son of God. Will viewers pay to see footage they could get, and most likely have already seen, for free on the History Channel? The film is a repurposing of TV’s “The Bible” mini-series produced by Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey, who also plays the Virgin Mary. It’s a good question, though given advance ticket sales (according to Fandango, as of yesterday morning Son of God accounted for 40 percent of pre-sales) the answer may very well be, yes, they will. Box Office Mojo used Pew Research Group data to do a series of nifty calculations regarding the country’s Christians, God’s target demographic (an unintentionally Meta phrase). According to the site, over 80 million Americans attend Christian services each week. If only five percent of that church-going population buys tickets to Son of God, the movie will open to upwards of $30 million. This also seems likely.
Three other releases opening wide or expanding today include Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, which performed well in limited release last weekend (it will screen in 496 theatres this weekend); Russia’s first movie shot in IMAX 3D, Stalingrad (opening in 308 IMAX locations); and Repentance, starring Forest Whitaker and Anthony Mackie (152 theatres). An extended cut of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues will also screen in 1,317 locations. Apparently, this lengthier version features 763 new jokes, a gimmick that will likely appeal to only the most diehard of Ron Burgundy devotees. Receipts should tally out to around or under $2 million.
Happy Oscar weekend!