The reign is over: after three straight weeks as the number one movie, The Lego Movie has fallen to the third spot thanks to the strength of the two new releases: Non-Stop, the latest action thriller starring Liam Neeson, and Son of God, the cinematic edit of the record-breaking mini-series The Bible. The toy epic still managed a healthy $20.8M and has so far grossed $209.14M.
Opening at No. 1 was Non-Stop, which reunited Liam Neeson with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra and managed to earn $28.88M over the weekend. This is a marked improvement over Neeson’s previous action films, with most of them ranging from $19M (The Grey) to $21M (the previously mentioned Unknown). While it didn’t reach Taken 2’s opening ($49.5M), Non-Stop actually managed to open higher than the original Taken ($24.72M), although it’s not likely to share Taken’s incredible legs.
What drove this to a higher total was that the film had a compelling premise — a marshal trying to find a killer while trapped on an airline flight—that played to Neeson’s strength. It’s interesting to compare this to last week’s 3 Days To Kill: just having an interesting lead is not enough. You have to have an intriguing plot that’ll drive the film and ultimately the actor themselves. At this point, Neeson has established his own brand, evolving into a modern action star, and Non-Stop is his latest victory lap.
At the second spot was Son of God, culled from the mega-successful History Channel series The Bible, grossing $25.6M. Focusing specifically on the life of Jesus Christ, the producers of the mini-series, including reality television mogul Mark Burnett, wisely reached out directly to the Christian community and churches nationwide to market the film. They even released Spanish dubs in select theaters for Spanish-speaking audiences.
This is one reason why the majority of tickets opening day were through presales and group tickets, with many people going together with their respective faith-based groups to watch the feature. All the more impressive when you consider that not only had these people likely seen the mini-series on television, but may have already owned it (The Bible did phenomenally well on the home market, being one the best selling Blu-Ray mini-series of all time).
While it was never expected to reach the levels of Passion of the Christ from a decade ago (the film had the perfect blend of controversy, coverage, celebrity intrigue, and market demand), the success of Son of God shows that the Christian market has been a mostly untapped audience. However, Biblical adaptations are a very sensitive issue, as any type of creative alteration can cause a fair bit of controversy, even being seen as sacrilegious.
Just earlier this week, Paramount announced that they plan to attach a disclaimer in front of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which comes out later this month, claiming that it’s an “interpretation” and not a “literal adaptation” to avoid offending anyone. It’s also possible that 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott will have to do the same for Exodus, an adaptation of the story of Moses due December 12.
Son of God avoided this issue by taking a softball, non-offensive approach that was widely approved by the community prior to the feature release. It’ll be curious to see if Mark Burnett will succeed again with the sequel mini-series A.D.: Beyond the Bible, which will explore Revelations and the historical events that took place after the resurrection.