Audiences came out en masse this weekend to watch Liam Neeson apply his particular set of skills on some baddies for the third (and maybe final) time in Taken 3, which grossed an estimated $40.4 million to top the box office. As it stands, that is slightly behind the monthly record, which currently belongs to 2014’s Ride Along ($41.5 million). Even though its debut is around $9 million less than Taken 2, few expected the second sequel to open so high. Without a European locale and good reviews, and due to poor response from its predecessor, Taken 3‘s opening packed more of a punch than expected. With NFL playoff games drawing much attention on Saturday and Sunday, it is impressive that the film increased on Saturday and is set to drop only 35% on Sunday.
Taken 3‘s B+ CinemaScore is decent as well, especially given the chilly critical reception. Despite the powerful opening, American Sniper‘s wide release next week could spell problems for Liam Neeson. Still, even with weak legs, a total over $100 million is expected.
Finishing in second with a respectable but far from rousing finish was Oscar contender Selma. The $20 million drama set 50 years ago and featuring a cast of mostly unknowns debuted to $11.2 million in wide release. However, given the excellent reviews and strong word-of-mouth from a limited release beginning on Christmas Day, the historical film was expected to take in more from its expansion. It was less than half the opening weekend of The Butler ($24.6 million), although that film had a more prominent cast and less competition for adults. (Oprah Winfrey appears in both films, but is mostly absent from Selma‘s ads.)
Even with a small debut, the film should prove to be a fine box office performer. Considering its subject matter and strong word-of-mouth (with a rare A+ CinemaScore rating), it should hold up well on the Martin Luther King holiday next weekend. With several Oscar nominations expected later this week, the drama could have a long road ahead. A good target now would be surpassing 12 Years a Slave‘s $56.7 million take. So far, Selma has earned $13.5 million.