As an action star, Liam Neeson can do no wrong.
The actor's latest pic, Universal's "Non-Stop," estimated $30 million in its opening frame, enough to beat Fox's overperformer "Son of God," with $26.5 million, and Warner Bros.' former box office champ "The Lego Movie," which grossed $21 million through Sunday.
Making global headlines in the run-up to Sunday's Oscarcast, Disney's two-time nominated toon "Frozen" crossed the $1 billion mark, making it only the second 2013 release to do so -- coincidentally, the Mouse had the other: "Iron Man 3."
Another Oscar-nominated film to hit a milestone this weekend, Fox Searchlight's best picture hopeful "12 Years a Slave" crossed the $50 million domestic mark after more than four months in theaters.
In limited release, Lionsgate-CodeBlack Films' urban-targeted Forest Whitaker pic "Repentance" failed to attract much of its core demo, grossing just $530,000 from 152 locations, averaging $3,487 per screen.
The Metropolitan Opera celebrated its 75th live transmission this weekend, with Borodin's Russian epic "Prince Igor" grossing $1.61 million. Attendance reached an estimated 70,000 in North America alone from more than 900 screens. An additional 88,000 people watched the live feed on more than 900 screens in 33 countries outside the U.S.
The domestic box office saw a healthy injection, up more than 15% over this same weekend last year, when the top grosser was the pricey B.O. disaster "Jack the Giant Slayer," with $27 million.
Falling from the top spot for the first time in four weeks, Warner and Village Roadshow's "The Lego Movie" dropped just 33% in three days, giving the hit toon enough momentum to surge past $200 million at the domestic box office. The limited drop for "Lego" this weekend is impressive considering both "Non-Stop" and "Son of God" dipped into the toon's core demos -- adult men and families -- the latter, though, attracting a concentrated family segment of Christian auds.
And while "Non-Stop" earned a sizable portion of its opening from men, the film actually played slightly better with women, contributing 51% of the debut gross. The film did skew mostly toward adult auds, with 65% over 25.
"Kudos to our marketing department, who completely nailed it, and kudos to (producer) Joel Silver for casting Liam, who has -- let's face it -- become quite a sensation at the box office," said Universal domestic distribution prexy Nikki Rocco.
"Non-Stop," which Universal paid $13 million for North American rights, cost $50 million to produce by StudioCanal and Joel Silver. Alex Heineman and Andrew Rona co-produced along with Silver. The film received a solid 'A-' CinemaScore.
Fox, meanwhile, gave "Son of God" a significant push in the Latino markets, even going so far as to release a Spanish-langauge dubbed version of the film at 200-plus locations. The film ultimately earned 22% of its opening weekend from Hispanic auds.
"Son of God" is a pared-down version of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's 10-hour miniseries "The Bible," which aired last March on History to an average of 15 million-plus viewers for its five two-hour installments. The film version runs two hours and 15 minutes and is a complete re-edit of the Jesus storyline from the mini, with supplemental outtakes.
The film scored an above average 80% rating among auds who would definitely recommend the film, a composite of polling done over two days.
"Son of God" sold roughly $5 million worth of advanced tickets, of which $1.2 million were redeemed for Thursday evening shows. Without those added to the opening day gross, the film actually was up 13% on Saturday.
"I don't feel this film is frontloaded in any way," said Fox distribution topper Chris Aronson. "If you look back to faith-based films, which played in this corridor, they all tend to have long tails."
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