Box Office: Liam Neeson and ‘Taken 3’ to Unseat ‘The Hobbit’

Liam Neeson will break out his very particular set of skills one more time in “Taken 3,” with the action film set to lay waste to all comers at the weekend box office.

The latest chapter in the film series that made the hulking and middle-aged Irish actor an unlikely action star will likely debut to roughly $30 million when it premieres in 3,593 locations. The picture cost $48 million to produce and was financed by EuropaCorp, with 20th Century Fox handling distribution.

The new “Taken” is well positioned to make a profit, but the latest chapter may have difficulty matching the franchise’s previous installment. “Taken 2” kicked off to $49.5 million in 2012, while the first film bowed to $24.7 million in 2009.

Despite the continued enthusiasm for watching Neeson break bones and crack skulls, the weekend box office may have a tough time matching the year-ago period. That weekend hosted “Lone Survivor,” which premiered to $38.2 million.

Though theater owners and studios have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of 2015 after a doleful year that saw box office sales plunge 5%, the first quarter promises to be tricky. That’s because the initial three months of 2014 were strong, bringing with them a series of hits such as “The Lego Movie” and “Ride Along.”

“The first quarter is fairly tough because last year was no slouch even though the whole year came in slow,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “Still, this is a diverse weekend in terms of movies, with lots of opportunities for people to catch up on awards contenders.”

That’s fitting because the Golden Globes air on Sunday. To that end, awards bait will be a star attraction at the multiplexes, with “Taken 3’s” main competition coming from the expansion of Paramount’s Oscar contender “Selma.” The civil rights movement drama will broaden its footprint from 22 theaters to more than 2,300 screens. Buoyed by strong reviews, “Selma” will likely generate $15 million in receipts. In two weeks of limited release, the film has brought in an impressive $2.1 million.

There’s also last weekend’s champ “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” The farewell to Middle-earth is outpacing the previous installment in the series, “The Desolation of Smaug,” and has topped charts for three weeks running. It won’t be able to replicate the feat for a fourth time, however. It should drop to third place and about $13 million for the weekend.

Christmas holdovers “Unbroken” and “Into the Woods” should round out the top five, making a little less than $10 million apiece.

The weekend will also see the expansion of “Inherent Vice.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s chemically altered mystery has generated $1.5 million since debuting in limited release on Dec. 12. It adds approximately 400 theaters to its current crop of 16 locations but could be hobbled by its lack of awards buzz.

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