Box Office: 'Non-Stop' Tipped to Hijack Jesus Story 'Son of God'

Early Friday returns suggest the Liam Neeson action-thriller could narrowly prevail over the Christian film, but an upset is still possible.

Liam Neeson's latest action-thriller, Non-Stop, has a shot at taking down faith-based offering Son of God at the North American box office this weekend in what's shaping up to be a relatively close race.

Universal and Silver Pictures' Non-Stop is poised to earn $7.5 million to $8.5 million on Friday, while Son of God could take in $7 million to $7.5 million, based on early returns. (More bullish observers believe Son of God could even hit $8 million for the day.)

Based on those numbers, Non-Stop should earn $22 million to $25 million for the weekend, while Son of God could earn anywhere between $20 million and $22 million, the big caveat being that faith-based films are notoriously difficult to model. For that reason, Son of God could overperform if traffic remains strong throughout the weekend.

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Son of God opened to an impressive $1.2 million Thursday night at the North American box office. That was enough to beat the $720,000 earned by Neeson action pic Non-Stop, although Son of God benefited mightily from advance ticket sales.

The Christian feature is an unusual offering. The movie, chronicling the life of Jesus Christ, was made using footage from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's hit 10-hour television miniseries The Bible. (The married couple are devout Christians.) Deleted scenes from the miniseries also are featured.

Twentieth Century Fox is distributing the movie, which amassed more than $4 million in advance ticket sales, thanks to heavy interest from churches and religious organizations that have organized group outings and theater take-overs, helping to account for Thursday night's strong number and what's likely to be a good Friday. The big question is how strong traffic will remain on Saturday and Sunday.

"Mark and Roma's grassroots, heartfelt marketing effort has galvanized audiences to see Son of God," said Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson.

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Non-Stop, meanwhile, looks to further cement Neeson's career as an elder action star and a favorite among adult moviegoers. In the film, Neeson stars as a U.S. federal air marshal who runs into trouble on a flight from New York to London. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Non-Stop also stars Julianne Moore and Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o.

Also this weekend, Paramount is rereleasing an R-rated, extended version of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues in more than 1,000 theaters nationwide.

Of any film, Son of God is arguably the most immune to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, which can take a substantial bite out of the box office.

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The film opens exactly a decade after Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ became an instant hit, opening to a massive $83.8 million on its way to earning $612 million worldwide. Son of God, lacking the controversy that Passion of the Christ sparked, isn't expected to match those numbers.

Son of God is the first in a slew of biblical and faith-based films set for 2014. On March 28, Paramount debuts Darren Aronofsky's tentpole Noah. The studio will play a trailer of Noah before Son of God.


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