Has the (almost) 60-year-old Liam Neeson, in his second act resurgence, become our most bankable action star? Since the 2008 hit Taken reshaped his image from sensitive character actor to a quietly masculine hero who snaps bones like dried twigs, Neeson has enjoyed a steady stream of #1 box-office smashes: Clash Of The Titans, Unknown, and now The Grey, his wolf-punching existential survival adventure. (The A-Team, from Grey director Joe Carnahan, opened soft, but that was always a dubious act of franchise resuscitation.) At a solid $20 million, The Grey easily won a very winnable weekend, helped along by a number of strong reviews (A.O. Scott’s rave in The New York Times is a great read even by his standards) and some typically weak late-January competition. Really, Katherine Heigl’s drawing power could fairly be deemed substantial, given the stink wafting off One For The Money, a light detective comedy that wasn’t screened for critics and looks like it was shot by precocious raccoons. It opened in third with $11.75 million. Meanwhile, Sam Worthington had his own star power tested, and it turns out that audiences didn’t show up in droves to Avatar and Terminator: Salvation for a chance to see him disappear into another leading role. His profoundly dopey thriller Man On A Ledge limped into fifth with $8.3 million, suggesting that maybe the Worthington magic can only be brought out via green screen.
In limited release, Albert Nobbs couldn’t take advantage of its two Oscar nominations for Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, riding tepid reviews to a per screen average of $3,155 on 245 screens. Then again, strong reviews didn’t do much for the French drama Declaration Of War, which grossed only $14,400 on six screens for a $2,400 per screen average. The Oscar bump did help The Descendants and The Artist, however, both of which added screens and padded their grosses accordingly: The former slipped back into the Top 10 in its 11th week with $6.55 million and the latter added 235 screens and brought in $3.3 million.