The action star's airliner thriller "Non-Stop" arrived in first place at the weekend box office, effectively ending the Warner Bros. animated film's three-week blockade at the top spot. The Universal film stars Neeson as a federal air marshal on a doomed flight. "Non-Stop" ascended in its first weekend with $30 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"I think the fact that audiences were ready for a suspense thriller was a lot to do with the film's success, and obviously Liam is an absolute box office draw," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "One of the main reasons people were coming to see the film was Liam."
Fox's "Son of God" debuted closely behind "Non-Stop" in second place with $26.5 million. The film recounts the story of Jesus' life using footage from the production of History Channel's 10-part miniseries "The Bible." Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak, noted it was a strong showing because box office predictions for "Son of God" were wildly varied.
"It's difficult to track religious- and faith-based films, as we learned with 'The Passion of the Christ,' " Dergarabedian said. "If the expectation is that Hollywood should make more movies like this, then the audiences who want these movies have to vote with their dollars. It's only then that Hollywood will wake up and see this as a viable genre that people will want to see."
"Son of God," which features Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus, is the first of several religious-themed films set for release this year, including next month's "Noah" starring Russell Crowe and "Exodus" with Christian Bale planned for December.
"The Lego Movie," which features the voices of Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks as characters from the block-building toy franchise, came in third place with $21 million in its third weekend, bringing its total domestic haul to $209.3 million.
A few contenders up for Oscars at Sunday's 86th annual Academy Awards received a boost at the box office. Dergarabedian said the box office for "12 Years a Slave" was up 72 per cent and for "Dallas Buyers Club" was up 44 per cent over last weekend. Both films are vying for the best-picture trophy at the Oscars, as well as several other honours.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Rentrak. Where available, latest international numbers are also included.
1. "Non-Stop," $30 million.
2. "Son of God," $26.5 million
3. "The Lego Movie," $21 million.
4. "The Monuments Men," $5 million.
5. "3 Days to Kill," $4.9 million.
6. "RoboCop," $4.5 million.
7. "Pompeii," $4.3 million.
8. "Frozen," $3.6 million.
9. "About Last Night," $3.4 million.
10. "Ride Along," $3 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.