Why Liam Neeson Movies Are A Guaranteed Success At The Box Office

Liam neeson a walk among the tombstonesUniversal PicturesLiam Neeson prepares for action in ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones.’

Liam Neeson returns to theatres this weekend in new action thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones.”

The film has some steep competition from new young adult adaptation “The Maze Runner,” which is expected to bring in north of $US35 million this weekend.

Boxoffice.com projects “Tombstones,” based on the Lawrence Block novel of the same name, to make $14 million million opening weekend, on the low end for Neeson movies, but respectable given its R-rating. His last film “Non-Stop” opened to $US28 million in February.

While Neeson’s film may not beat out the YA film this weekend, here’s why it should 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 bonafide 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 dominating 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’s clear 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 posters20th Century Fox/Universal/Warner BrosMarketing posters for three of Liam Neeson’s recent box-office movies compared to ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones.’

Neeson’s Box-Office Power

There’s a reason studios want Neeson in their films. The majority of his films are low-risk, high reward with budgets averaging around $US71 million and a worldwide box-office intake average of $US213 million.

For films where Neeson is the sole lead, the difference is even greater. Budgets average $US35 million while intake is $US202.7 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 $US49.5 million $376.1 million $45 million
Battleship” (PG-13) 05/18/2012 $US25.5 million $303 million $209 million
Wrath of the Titans” (PG-13) 03/30/2012 $US33.5 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 that have 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 where he is the solo lead are usually big hits.

The original “Taken” grossed $226 million worldwide on a budget of $US25 million while its sequel made over $376 million on an estimated $US45 million budget. A common denominator among a majority of these films is a PG-13 rating which could prove tricky for the R-rated “A Walk Among the Tombstones.” However, the $US25 million R-rated “The Grey” went on to gross a respectable $77 million worldwide in 2012.

Bottom Line

Liam neeson a walk among tombstonesAtsushi Nishijima/Universal StudiosLiam Neeson in a very familiar pose in ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones.’

“A Walk Among The Tombstones” simply would not exist if it weren’t for Liam Neeson’s star power. In an interviewwith 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 $US65 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 “Non-Stop” would never get made, but because he got on board, the otherwise 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.

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