UPDATE, 8 AM: Taken 3 is off to a solid start. 20th Century Fox is reporting the Liam Neeson-starrer took in $ 1.6M last night at 2,499 locations.

PREVIOUS, Thursday AM: Whenever the words Taken and January are used in the same sentence, they’re bound to bring grins to exhibitors and Fox executives. With the 2015 domestic box office off to a great start thanks to holiday holdovers, 20th Century Fox is looking to keep momentum going with the stateside release of EuropaCorp.’s Taken 3, which Liam Neeson has mentioned in interviews is the final installment for his ex-covert operative Bryan Mills. Taken 3 remains unopposed as the only new wide release this weekend at 3,593 locations, and not only is it looking at a bow in the high $ 20Ms (maybe $ 30M), but it is expected to kick The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies out of the top spot. Previews start tonight in select theaters.

Also on Friday, Paramount’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma is expanding from 22 theaters to just under 2,400. Having amassed $ 2.2M since its Christmas Day opening, word-of-mouth spurred by a groundswell of popular support, and co-star/producer Oprah Winfrey’s promotion of the film on OWN and via her social media, should put the Ava DuVernay film somewhere in the mid teens for the 3-day. Warner Bros.’ Paul Thomas Anderson absurdist detective noir Inherent Vice is expanding in its fifth weekend from 16 playdates to 400+. Industry estimates peg the film, which has collected a Golden Globe lead comedy acting nom for Joaquin Phoenix and four Critics Choice Movie noms (supporting actor Josh Brolin, adapted screenplay, costume design and art direction), at $ 3M for Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

Similar to the first two Takens, EuropaCorp financed Taken 3 and Fox is handling domestic and most foreign territories (it collected $ 9.5M last weekend from South Korea and Hong Kong). Taken 3 was made for a reported $ 48M and Europa retains France, Germany, Scandinavia, the Middle East, most of Eastern Europe (except Russia), Benelux and China. The first two Takens had combined budgets of $ 70M, and together chalked up a global haul of $ 603M.

taken 2Following the 2008 recession, Taken  was one of those movies in January 2009 that surprised everyone. The first film bowed in the U.S. close to a year after it had premiered in France in 2008. It pulled off a death-defying act at the box office: Taken actually lured guys into the theater during the B.O. dead zone frame of Super Bowl weekend, racking up a $ 24.7M opening and a final domestic B.O. of $ 145M. Taken was one of four January $ 100M-plus grossers that fired 2009 up and it spawned a 2012 sequel that beat the bow of the first with $ 49.5M and finaled at $ 139.9M, as well as a number of other Neeson shoot ‘em ups—none of which legged out like the Takens did.

The question begged is whether Neeson has grown long in the tooth with his locking and loading. Last fall he hit an all-time low with the crime thriller novel adaptation A Walk Among The Tombstones, which posted a $ 26.3M domestic total, a figure on par with his action film openings. The irony has been that Neeson’s non-Taken actioners have largely been praised by critics, but have paled at the domestic B.O. in comparison to the Takens, which are typically knocked by the tweed set. “Unlike the other (action) films, audiences have an affinity for Neeson’s Bryan Mills character, that’s one of the reasons why the Taken franchise is critic-proof,” says 20th Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson. The first two chapters of Taken earned respective CinemaScores of A- and B+.

taken 3 linked inTaken 2 director Olivier Megaton returns for Taken 3, which finds Mills framed for his wife’s brutal murder. Consumed with rage, Mills goes on the run to evade the CIA, FBI and police while tracking down his wife’s killers and of course protecting his daughter. Fox rolled out an intriguing social media campaign, some of which satirized Mills’ macho character. One, cited by Ad Age as among the top 5 best brand ideas of the week, was a partnership with social resume site LinkedIn that featured a Bryan Mills fictional profile. LinkedIn members were given the chance to enter a contest whose winner would have Mills, via a video, endorse their “particular set of skills.”

Additionally, there were hysterical viral Taken 3 vids that Fox’s creative content team made, one a trailer that parodied the “12 Days of Christmas,” and the second, a music video “Stop Takin’ My Sh*t” about an irate Mills who is always against the odds. Social media monitor RelishMIX shows Taken 3 towering over other new wide releases this month when it comes to the cyber universe. Taken 3 has 72M YouTube views and a total reach of 105M across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter combined.lbj selma

Also moving the meter for Taken 3 was an ESPN NBA Christmas game cross promo where Neeson tells Washington Wizards star John Wall that “the team I support  has a very particular set of skills; skills that they’ve acquired over a fearless career.” See below:

Anthony D’Alessandro

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