'Taken 3' expected to push 'Hobbit' from top spot

'Taken 3' expected to push 'Hobbit' from top spot
Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker in the "Taken 3." (Daniel McFadden / EuropaCorp)

Moviegoers will probably be "Taken" by Liam Neeson this weekend as the third  installment of the action franchise hits theaters.

"Taken 3" is expected push the third "Hobbit" installment from its top spot at the box office. It could debut with up to $30 million in ticket sales, according to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys.


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. drama "Selma" will likely march to second and pull in $15 million to $20 million. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," which has topped the box office for three weekends in a row, is expected to fall to third.

"Taken 3," which cost about $48 million to make, was financed by French writer-producer Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Neeson reprises his role as former covert operative Bryan Mills, who has to evade law enforcement officials and protect his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) after being framed for murdering his ex-wife.

The franchise, now in perhaps its final installment, has been fruitful at the box office, in large part due to Neeson's appeal as a vigilante.

"Taken 2" opened to a strong $50 million in October 2012. That was double what the original "Taken" made in 2009, when its $24.7-million start surprised on the historically slow Super Bowl weekend. The franchise has grossed more than $600 million worldwide on combined budgets of $70 million.

However, Neeson's most recent action films haven't fared as well at the box office. "A Walk Among the Tombstones," which came out in September, fell short of Universal Pictures' mid-to-high-teens forecast. The action film, which cost about $28 million to make, debuted to $13.1 million.

Paramount Pictures will expand "Selma" from 22 theaters to more than 2,300 screens.

Positive word-of-mouth, including promotion from co-star/producer Oprah Winfrey, and awards buzz will probably give "Selma" a boost this weekend. The drama earned a 100% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and notched four Golden Globes nominations.

"It's not a typical biopic; there is this look at this man that is so unusual because it kind of unearths the strategy he had, the doubt he had, the concerns he had for people's well-being," Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of domestic marketing and distribution, told the Times when the film first rolled out. "It's truly inspiring in a relatable way."

Meanwhile, New Line and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" could add $13 million to its total domestic haul of about $227.5 million.

The Peter Jackson film, based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien, earned a 60% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an A-minus grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore.

Also, Warner Bros.' "Inherent Vice" will roll out in an additional 400 theaters. The Paul Thomas Anderson-directed film could add $5 million to its box-office haul.

For more news on the entertainment industry, follow me @saba_h