Box Office: Liam Neeson's 'Taken 3' Zooms to No. 1 With Stellar $40.4M Debut

Taken 3 Liam Neeson Running - H 2014
Daniel McFadden - © 2014 EUROPACORP – M6 FILMS

Taken 3 Liam Neeson Running - H 2014

Ava DuVernay's 'Selma' places No. 2 after expanding nationwide, earning a coveted A+ CinemaScore; 'Into the Woods' and 'Unbroken' both jump the $100 million mark domestically

Closing out the franchise in style, Liam Neeson's Taken 3 earned $40.4 million from 3,594 theaters in its North American debut, topping the box office and scoring the second-best January opening of all time, not accounting for inflation.

The action movie earned another $41 million overseas from 36 markets for an early foreign total of $52.3 million and worldwide haul of $92.7 million. "This shows the enduring popularity of the character that Liam Neeson has created," said Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson.

Domestically, the $48 million action film, produced by Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and distributed by Fox, narrowly bested the $40.1 million earned by Cloverfield in 2008. Last year's Ride Along remains the record-holder with $41.5 million.

Taken 3, unseating The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, didn't match the $49.5 million debut of Taken 2 in October 2012, but that film faced far less competition —  at the multiplex and from the NFL football playoffs. Audiences gave the latest outing a B+ CinemaScore, while males made up 54 percent of ticket buyers.

The threequel reteams Neeson with castmembers Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace, and introduces Forest Whitaker to the franchise. Olivier Megaton returns in the director's chair, while Besson and Robert Mark Kamen once again wrote the script. This time out, ex-covert operative Bryan Mills (Neeson) avenges the death of his ex-wife.

Ava DuVernay's Golden Globe nominee Selma came in No. 2 as it expanded nationwide following a limited Christmas release. The civil rights drama, starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., grossed $11.2 million from 2,157 locations for an early total of $13.5 million. Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment and Oprah Winfrey produced Selma.

The critically acclaimed movie currently sports a 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has also ignited a heated debate among historians and some of those involved with the events of the time.

"We've seen a spectacular response from both critics and moviegoers, and we are hopeful that the Academy has a similar response to the film," said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. "We are so proud of this incredibly compelling movie."

A strong crop of holiday holdovers continued to do strong business, with both Into the Woods and Unbroken jumping the $100 million mark domestically.

Into the Woods, also a Golden Globe best-picture nominee, came in No. 3 with $9.8 million from 2,823 theaters, pushing its domestic total to $105.3 million for Disney and director Rob Marshall. Overseas, the musical earned $7.6 million from 15 territories for an early foreign total of $15.3 million and global cume of $120.6 million. (Disney also celebrated Big Hero 6 jumping the $400 million mark worldwide.)

From New Line and MGM, Peter Jackson's final Hobbit installment followed at No. 4 with $9.4 million from 3,402 locations. Through Sunday, the tentpole has grossed $236.5 million domestically and north of $700 million worldwide.

Angelina Jolie's Unbroken (the Universal movie was snubbed by the Globes, but is considered a likely Oscar player) grossed $8.4 million from 3,301 theaters for a North American total of $101.6 million. The movie took in $5.7 million internationally from 24 markets, including a $1.5 million debut in France, where moviegoing slowed in Paris because of the devastating terrorist attacks. Unbroken has earned a total of $14 million overseas for an early worldwide total of $115.6 million. 

The Imitation Game, another Globe contender, continues to impress as it moved up the chart to No. 6, earning $7.6 million from 1,566 locations for an outstanding North American total of $40.7 million for The Weinstein Co. and star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Fox's family film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb followed at No. 7, earning $6.7 million from 3,371 theaters in its fourth weekend for a domestic total of $99.5 million. And the threequel topped the foreign chat with $46.2 million, thanks in large part to a $26.7 million debut in China (it actually opened there Jan. 4, so that's an eight-day total). Secret of the Tomb has now grossed $148.6 million internationally and $248.1 million globally.

Annie, also in its fourth weekend and playing in 2,856 theaters, placed No. 8 domestically with $4.9 million, bringing its domestic cume to $79.4 million and world total to $98.8 million.

Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, released by Relativity in the U.S., fell a steep 68 percent in its second weekend to come in No. 9 with $4.8 million from 2,602 locations. Horror films often see big drops, although the first Woman in Black only fell 51 percent in its second outing. The sequel's domestic total through Sunday is $22.3 million.

Like Selma, Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice expanded nationwide this weekend after a limited play over the holidays, although it is only playing in 645 locations. The film fell outside the top 10, grossing a muted $2.9 million for a cume of $4.5 million.

Among other players in the awards race, although not necessarily the Globes, Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, continued to dazzle in its third outing. The movie grossed $555,000 from four theaters, putting its average at a mighty $138,629 and domestic total at $3.2 million. Warner Bros. expands Sniper nationwide Jan. 16 following Academy Award nominations Jan. 15.

American Sniper is breaking records in Italy, where Eastwood is a popular figure. The film earned $4.2 million in its second weekend, bringing its running cume to $14.6 million, the best showing of any Eastwood film after only 10 days in release.

Elsewhere, Sony's The Interview continued to fall off at the box office, not a surprise, considering its availability on VOD (also, the comedy's theater count has dropped from 581 locations to 492 locations). Rentrak reports that the controversial comedy fell 64 percent to $388,000 for a domestic total of $5.7 million. It has made far more on VOD, or north of $31 million.