Box Office: 'Taken 3' Awakening Sleepy January With $38.5M-Plus Debut

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

Taken 3 Liam Neeson Running - H 2014

Liam Neeson's action movie is on track to score one of the top January openings of all time; elsewhere, 'Selma' expands nationwide on the eve of the Golden Globes, while 'Imitation Game' continues to move up the chart

Liam Neeson's Taken 3 is proving another win for the franchise, which has rocketed the actor to fame as an older action star.

The $48 million action film, produced by Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and distributed by Fox, topped the Friday box office with an impressive $14.7 million from 3,594 theaters, and will have no trouble claiming the North American box office crown with a weekend gross between $38.5 million and $40 million, putting it among the top January openings of all time, not accounting for inflation.

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Last year's Ride Along is the current record-holder with $41.5 million, followed by Cloverfield, which debuted to $40.1 million in 2008, and last year's Lone Survivor, which opened to $37.8 million.

Leeson's threequel unseats The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which placed No. 1 for three straight weekends. Taken 3 won't match the $49.5 million debut of Taken 2 in October 2012, but that film faced less competition.

The movie 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.

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Coming in No. 2 Friday was Ava DuVernay's Golden Globe nominee Selma, which is expanding nationwide after a limited Christmas release. The critically acclaimed civil rights drama, starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. and currently sporting a 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, earned an estimated $3.8 million to $4 million Friday from 2,179 runs for a weekend take between $11 million and $12 million.

Holdovers Into the Woods, Hobbit and Unbroken were in a relatively close race Friday. Angelina Jolie's Unbroken narrowly led with $2.6 million, but Hobbit and Into the Woods, nominated for a Golden Globe in the musical/comedy category, could pull ahead over the weekend. Either way, both Disney's Into the Woods and Unbroken, from Universal, will jump the $100 million mark by Sunday, while New Line and MGM's Hobbit will clear $236 million.

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The Imitation Game, another Globe contender, continues to impress, and should finish the weekend at No. 6, pushing its domestic total to north of $40 million for The Weinstein Co. and star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Fox's family film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb follows at No. 7, and will finish its third weekend with a domestic total of $99 million.

Horror films often fall steeply in their second weekend, and Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is no exception. The Relativity release is coming in No. 8 with a projected weekend gross of $4.5 million, putting its domestic total at roughly $22 million.

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Annie follows at No. 9 in its third outing, and is looking at a North American total of $78.3 million through Sunday.

Like Selma, Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice is expanding nationwide this weekend, although it is only playing in 645 locations. The film took in $960,000 on Friday, and is expected to place No. 11 for the weekend with a muted $3 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, continues to make headlines in its limited release. The movie is projected to earn $545,000 from four theaters for the weekend, putting its average at a mighty $136,250 in its third outing and domestic total at $3.1 million. Warner Bros. expands Sniper nationwide Jan. 16 following Academy Award nominations Jan. 15.

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Elsewhere, Sony's The Interview continues 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). The film is expected to take in $390,000 for the weekend, a decline of roughly 64 percent, for a domestic total of $5.7 million. It has made far more on VOD, or north of $31 million.

Jan. 10, 7:45 a.m. Updated with Friday numbers.