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Box Office: 'The Grey' shines bright in opening weekend

Liam Neeson is on top of the box office

Liam Neeson has secured his status as the thinking man's action star as his latest thriller -- "The Grey" -- finished on top of the box office this weekend.

"The Grey," about a group of oil refinery workers battling the elements and the Alaskan wildlife after a plane crash, easily beat industry expectations. Distributor Open Road and Hollywood.com said the movie taking in $20 million, while rival studios put the film's box office between $19.2 million and $19.6 million. Either way, "The Grey" had no trouble exceeding the projections that had it topping out at $14 million.

For the 59-year-old Neeson, "The Grey" is his third successful action movie in a row. The roughly $20 million that "The Grey" raked in is on par with last year's "Unknown," which took in $21.9 million in its first weekend and not too far off from 2009's "Taken," which made almost $25 million in its debut.

With a production budget of only about $25 million, it is likely that "The Grey" will be in the black fairly quickly. Open Road Films, a joint venture formed last year by theater chains AMC Entertainment and Regal Cinemas, acquired the title for about $5 million.

"We knew on Friday we were doing well when 'The Grey' was trending on Twitter," said Open Road Chief Executive Tom Ortenberg.

Also doing better than expected in its debut was the Lionsgate comedy thriller "One for the Money" starring Katherine Heigl. Based on novelist Janet Evanovich's character Stephanie Plum, a New Jersey bounty hunter, "One for the Money" made $11.7 million, good enough for third place overall and second among new releases.

The reviews for "One for the Money," which was not screened for critics (meaning that they had to pay their own way after the film was released), were far from encouraging. Hollywood insiders were doubtful that the movie, which cost about $40 million to make, would even crack the $10-million mark in its opening.

However, the power of Evanovich's heavily female fan base -- the movie's audience was almost 80% women and of those, about 40% were over 40 -- and a big discount offer for tickets from Groupon was apparently enough for the chick flick to beat the bleak forecast.

"We were obviously happy with the results, but we weren't shocked," said David Spitz, president of theatrical distribution for Lions Gate. Spitz noted that, like the studio's Tyler Perry franchise, the audience for "One for the Money" are not frequent movie attendees, which makes prerelease surveys less reliable. "We knew they would come out," Spitz said.

While "The Grey" and "One for the Money" were overachievers, "Man on a Ledge" from Summit Entertainment was not able to soar in its opening.

The movie, starring Sam Worthington about an ex-cop who has escaped from prison and is trying to prove his innocence, made $8.2 million. That was in line with industry estimates, which were not so great for the who-really-done-it thriller that garnered mostly weak reviews. The film's production budget was about $42 million, however, Summit's exposure on "Man on a Ledge" is less than $10 million.

Among the returning movies, Sony's "Underworld: Awakening" still had enough bite to finish second overall with $12.5 million, a drop of about 51% from its opening-weekend performance.

Fox's "Red Tails," the George Lucas-financed and produced historical drama about the Tuskegee Airmen, which last week surprised box office watchers with its $19.1 million debut, made $10.4 million, a respectable drop in altitude from Week 1 of 45%

Several movies got an Oscar bump this weekend. The picture that gained the most from its Oscar nominations was "The Descendants," which took in $6.5 million. The family drama starring George Clooney, which is in its 11th week of release, expanded from about 600 theaters to 2,000. The movie is likely to pass "Little Miss Sunshine" this week as the fifth-biggest movie from Fox Searchlight.

Also benefiting from Oscar buzz was Weinstein Co.'s silent movie "The Artist," which took in about $3.4 million, a 42% jump from the previous week. Paramount's "Hugo," another big Oscar contender, generated $2.3 million.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office this weekend according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1."The Grey" (Open Road): Opened to $20 million.

2. "Underworld: Awakening"(Sony/Lakeshore): $12.5 million in second weekend, down 51%. Domestic total: $45.1 million.

3. "One for the Money" (Lionsgate/Lakeshore Entertainment) Opened to $11.7 million.

4. "Red Tails" (Fox/Lucasfilm): $10.4 million in second weekend, down 45%. Domestic total: $33.8 million.

5. "Man on a Ledge" (Summit) Opened to $8.2 million.

6. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (Warner Bros.): $7.1 million in second weekend of wide release, down 29%. Domestic total: $21.1 million.

7. "The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight): $6.5 million in 11th weekend, up 176%. Domestic total: $58.8 million.

8. "Contraband." (Universal): $6.5 million in third weekend, down 46%. Domestic total: $56.4 million.

9. "Beauty and the Beast 3-D" (Disney): $5.3 million in third weekend of 3-D rerelease, down 39%. Domestic total: $41.7 million.

10. "Haywire" (Relativity): $4 million in second weekend, down 53%. Domestic total: $15.3 million.

RELATED:

Projector: 'Grey' likely to finish on top

Will 'The Artist' get a box-office boost from Oscar noms?

Box Office: Fourth 'Underworld' film is No. 1 on strong weekend

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Liam Neeson in "The Grey." Credit: Open Road Films

 
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