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Box office preview: Liam Neeson should conquer weekend with ‘The Grey’

Image Credit: Kimberley FrenchIt’s all action, all the time. After such recent action releases as Contraband, Haywire, Red Tails, and Underworld: Awakening, this weekend will keep the thrills coming with two action thrillers and one action comedy.The thrillers are The Grey, in which Liam Neeson stands up to a hungry pack of Alaskan wolves, and Man on a Ledge, in which Sam Worthington stands up to a ledge. The third film, One for the Money, will try to continue Katherine Heigl’s streak of starring in critically panned comedies that somehow perform decently at the box office. Also, the Best Picture nominee The Descendants, starring Best Actor frontrunner George Clooney, expands to 1,997 theaters.Here are my weekend predictions:1. The Grey: $14 millionLiam Neeson has become quite the action star of late. His solo thrillers Taken and Unknown debuted to $24.7 million and $21.9 million, respectively, and the 59-year-old Irish actor also had prominent roles in the big-budget remakes Clash of the Titans and The A-Team. Now Neeson has reunited with A-Team director Joe Carnahan for The Grey, about an oil-drilling team that’s stranded in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness.This is the second release from Open Road Films, the newly formed distributor financed by AMC Entertainment and Regal Cinemas. The Grey cost a reported $34 million to produce, but Open Road acquired the film for a mere $5 million. That was a smart purchase. Although The Grey probably won’t duplicate the success of Taken or Unknown due to its bleak story and R rating, it should find itself opening somewhere in the low-to-mid teens thanks to Neeson’s appeal and generally positive reviews.2. Underworld: Awakening: $10.5 millionThe fourth entry — if you can believe it — in the supernatural action franchise led the box office last weekend with a solid $25.3 million. Now comes the hard fall. The first three Underworld flicks dropped an average of 59 percent their second weekend, and I see no reason not to predict the same decline for Awakening.3. Red Tails: $10 millionIt’s tough to know how this WWII action film, a passion project for executive producer George Lucas, will hold up its second week. It started off with an impressive $18.8 opening last weekend, and earned an “A” rating from CinemaScore audiences. But films that are predominantly targeted to African American audiences often suffer steep second-weekend drops — just look at Tyler Perry’s movies, which typically fall around 60 percent. Furthermore, Red Tails hasn’t been catching up to Underworld: Awakening during the week.So while I don’t think the movie will have to endure a Perry-like plummet of 60 percent, a drop that’s around 45 percent seems probable.4. One for the Money: $9.1 millionFourth place could easily go to the Sam Worthington thriller Man on a Ledge, but I’m giving the slightest edge to Katherine Heigl’s One for the Money. This PG-13 action comedy, based on the Janet Evanovich novel, has Heigl playing a bail-enforcement agent whose first assignment is to track down an old high-school flame.The film hasn’t screened for critics, and considering that Heigl’s last five projects earned an average Metacritic score of 31, I can understand why. However, those last five movies have opened to average of $19 million, and One for the Money might work as counter-programming to all those action flicks out there. But this still smells like an underperformer to me, and it should give Heigl her worst opening since Zyzzyx Road infamously debuted to $20 in 2006.5. Man on a Ledge: $9 millionEvery time I saw a trailer for Man on a Ledge at the theaters, the audience would giggle at the title. It’s a bad one, and reviews for the $42 million thriller haven’t been too kind either. Sam Worthington has starred in a number of hits — Avatar, Terminator Salvation, Clash of the Titans — but his name wasn’t really a selling point for those movies. In the PG-13 Man on a Ledge, he’s front and center, so this will be a good test to see whether Worthington can attract a sizable crowd all on his own (and without the help of snazzy special effects). I’m thinking he won’t, at least not with this particular film.

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