Liam Neeson thriller grosses $9.5 million Friday

Twentieth Century Fox’s Liam Neeson action-thriller “Taken” grossed an estimated $9.5 million from 3,183 theaters at the Friday box office to score the best opening day ever for Super Bowl weekend.

Historically, male-driven pics have avoided the Super Bowl frame, but Fox decided to break that tradition in a move that will likely result in other studios doing the same, considering the strength of “Taken.”

Paramount’s new horror entry “The Uninvited” performed more in line with Super Bowl pics, grossing an estimated $4.3 million from 2,344 runs on Friday.

Lionsgate’s Renee Zellweger-Harry Connick Jr. romantic comedy “New In Town,” the weekend’s third opener, had a difficult time besting three holdovers–Sony’s surprise hit “Paul Blart Mall Cop,” Warner Bros.’ “Gran Torino” and Sony’s “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.”

“New In Town” grossed roughly $2.4 million to $2.5 million from 1,941 runs.

“Taken,” starring Liam Neeson as a former government operative who goes to any length to save his kidnapped daughter, is on track to tackle the second-best opening weekend gross for a film daring to bow on Super Bowl weekend, when Sunday traffic can fall off by as much as 75% from Saturday.

In 2006, Sony’s “When a Stranger Calls” posted an opening day take of $9 million on its way to grossing $21.6 million for the weekend.

While “Taken” should beat “Stranger” for the weekend, it will have a tough time besting Disney’s 3-D blockbuster “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” which posted a Super Bowl weekend debut of $31.1 million a year ago on the strength of tween girls unconcerned with football (concert film’s opening day take was $8.7 million).

Among Oscar best picture hopefuls on Friday, Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” easily remained the box office leader, grossing an estimated $2.3 million from 1,633 theaters for a boffo domestic cume of $61.9 million. It is only the film’s second weekend in wide release.

Bets pic noms “The Reader,” from the Weinstein Co., and Focus Features’ “Milk” both expand nationwide this weekend.

“Reader” grossed an estimated $680,000 from 1,002 runs for a per location average of $685 and cume of $11 million.

“Milk,” expanding to 822 theaters, grossed an estimated $415,000 for a per location average of $470 and cume of $22.2 million.

“Frost/Nixon,” expanding nationwide last weekend, grossed an estimated $420,000 on Friday from 1,105 runs for a location average of $380 and cume of $13.3 million.

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