Is 'Cold Pursuit' the End of Liam Neeson's Reign as Action Star?

Doane Gregory
'Cold Pursuit'

The ‘Taken’ actor has built a cottage industry over the past decade playing aging men thrust into perilous situations, but his latest debuted to a tepid $10.8 million over the Feb. 8-10 weekend.

Liam Neeson's career took a surprise turn in late January 2009 when Taken stormed the box office, transforming the Schindler's List actor into a senior action star.

A decade later, Neeson's reign as a prolific genre hero is waning. His newest revenge thriller, Cold Pursuit, debuted to a tepid $10.8 million domestically over the Feb. 8-10 weekend, his worst showing in the post-Taken era.

"Neeson's sliding scale at the box office of late would certainly point to his action star status dimming," says box office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "That said, it hardly seems like he's trying with the vehicles he's picked at Lionsgate. Old action heroes never die...they just make sequels. Taken 4 anyone?"

Early tracking suggested that Cold Pursuit was in trouble even before Neeson, 66, was engulfed in controversy last week upon his revealing that he once considered a "revenge" attack against a random black person. Neeson subsequently tried to explain why he isn't racist, but that didn't stop Lionsgate from scrubbing the red carpet portion of Cold Pursuit's premiere in New York City in an effort to distance itself from the dust-up.

In early 2009, 20th Century Fox's Taken debuted to a rousing $49.5 million to score one of the best openings ever for the month of January, thanks to a strong turnout among older moviegoers. Taken — memorialized by the lines, "I have a very particular set of skills...I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you" — nabbed $226 million in global ticket sales.

Across Hollywood, other studios raced to make their own action films with Neeson. Warner Bros.' Unknown debuted to $21.9 million in 2011 on its way to $222.4 million globally, followed by Open Road Films' The Grey with $19.2 million in 2012 (Fox's Taken 2, also released in 2012, opened to $49.5 million and earned a sensational $377.8 million globally.)

Other highlights: Universal's Non-Stop launched to $28.9 million in 2014 and grossed $222.4 million worldwide, while Taken 3 opened to $39.2 million a year later before resting at $327.7 million.

While Neeson took on other, more ambitious films — appearing in Martin Scorsese's Silence in 2016 and playing the title role in the 2017 indie Mark Felt: The Man Who Took Down the White House — his trademark revenge thrillers appeared to arrive in theaters like clockwork.

However, by 2015, signs began appearing that Neeson's reliance on the action formula was beginning to look, well, old. Warrner's Run All Night stumbled in its March debut, launching to $11 million and getting to only $67 million globally.

Last year, Lionsgate's action title The Commuter did marginally better in its opening ($13.7 million) before ending its global box office run just shy of $120 million.

The Hans Petter Moland-directed Cold Pursuit is an English-language remake of the filmmaker's 2014 Norwegian vigilante film In Order of Disappearance. In the new pic, Neeson stars as a snowplow driver in a glitzy Colorado resort town who seeks revenge when his son dies of an overdose. Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe and Tom Bateman co-star.

Caucasians made up 61 percent of Cold Pursuit's male-skewing audience, followed by Hispanics (16 percent), Asian/Other (13 percent) and African Americans (10 percent).

Neeson is next in theaters in a change of pace, Men in Black International, Sony's effort to reboot its Men in Black franchise, which will be hitting theaters this summer.