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Liam Neeson’s ‘Non-Stop’ Battles ‘Son of God’ for Box Office Glory

Newcomers look to dethrone Warner Bros.' three-week champ 'The Lego Movie'

A pair of saviors battle for box office glory during Oscar weekend, with Universal’s Liam Neeson action-hero pic “Non-Stop” expected to gross in the mid-$20 millions, ahead of Fox’s Biblical drama “Son of God,” tracking in the mid-to-high teens.

Non-Stop” should knock “The Lego Movie” from its three-week winning streak. The Warner Bros.-Village Roadshow hit toon is expected to land around $20 million (down around 35%) through Sunday; domestic cume is nearing $190 million.

Expectations for both wide new entries are difficult to nail down, however.

“Non-Stop,” for instance, battles comparisons to past Neeson action pics: “Taken” bowed to $24 million over Super Bowl weekend in 2008, while its sequel earned more than twice that during opening weekend in 2012.

Son of God,” on the other hand, has seen sizable online ticket sales, according to both Fandango and Movietickets.com, though pre-sold tickets for the film weren’t necessarily for this weekend. So far, “Son of God” has sold $4.5 million worth of advanced tickets, with group sales from church groups and other religious institutions the largest component. Sales are spread out geographically and during all dayparts, Fox says.

Sony is releasing Russian action drama “Stalingrad” at 308 domestic Imax locations; the film stands as the highest-grossing local film in its home country, grossing more than $52 million locally.

Also bowing domestically, Lionsgate debuts CodeBlack Films’ Forest Whitaker-Anthony Mackie thriller “Repentance” at 152 locations, with advanced 10 p.m. screenings starting Feb. 27 nationwide. CodeBlack acquired rights to Philippe Caland’s film last year.

Meanwhile, Universal has domestic rights to “Non-Stop,” which was produced and financed by StudioCanal and Joel Silver, along with Alex Heineman and Andrew Rona. The $50 million-budgeted film, about a U.S. air marshal fighting a terrorist mid-flight, reunites Neeson with his “Unknown” director Jaume Collet-Serra; that pic bowed in February 2011 with $21.9 million domestically.

“Son of God” is a pared-down version of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s 10-hour miniseries “The Bible,” which aired last March on History to an average of 15 million-plus viewers for its five two-hour installments. The film version runs two hours and 15 minutes and is a complete re-edit of the Jesus storyline from the mini, with supplemental outtakes.

The theatrical release date, set last year, was meant to distance “Son of God” from Paramount’s Biblical retelling “Noah,” which launches Stateside on March 28. This time of year traditionally has been the best launchpad for religious-themed films as a lead-up to the Easter holidays.

It’s because of that month-long Easter lead-in that “Son of God” producers are less concerned with opening weekend, hoping the film legs out during weekdays and in subsequent weekends. Pic has received a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though its audience rating on that site among those who want to see the film is at 92%.

Looking to attract adult audiences, Paramount is re-releasing an R-rated extended version of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” at 1,300-plus locations. The original PG-13-rated film, which launched around Christmas, has grossed more than $125 million domestically, with nearly $170 million worldwide.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics bows Indian romance-drama “The Lunchbox” at three Stateside engagements. Pic premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year and screened at this year’s Sundance in the spotlight section.

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