Liam Neeson arrives for a news conference to promote "Taken 2"… (Lee Jin-Man / Associated…)
Liam Neeson is poised to rescue Hollywood from its recent box-office doldrums.
The action sequel "Taken 2," which 20th Century Fox is set to release next Friday, is on track for a strong opening of $40 million or more, according to several people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
No new movie has opened to more than $40 million since "The Dark Knight Rises" in July. Since then, numerous movies have opened below Hollywood's expectations based on "tracking" surveys, including "The Bourne Legacy," "Resident Evil: Retribution," and "Dredd."
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Since the weekend "The Dark Knight Rises" premiered, box office in the U.S. and Canada has been down 12% compared with the same period in 2011, according to data from Hollywood.com.
The animated comedy "Hotel Transylvania" is expected to debut with about $35 million this weekend.
If the movie market remains soft, "Taken 2" may not meet its expectations. But audience interest in the film is higher than for any other film coming out in the next four weeks.
As is often the case with action movies, the tracking shows that men are most excited to see "Taken 2." But the sequel starring Neeson is also one of the highest polling upcoming pictures among women as well.
A Fox spokesman said the studio would be happy with an opening in "low 30s." Even that would be a healthy start for the picture, given that 2009's original "Taken," a surprise hit, took in $24.7 million on its first weekend.
That film turned out to be a crowd pleaser, ultimately grossing $145 million. Now that audiences know they liked what they saw last time, they appear to be more excited to turn out on opening weekend for the follow-up.
A strong opening for "Taken 2" could bring some momentum back to the box office, as more people in theaters typically means more people seeing previews and spreading word of mouth, which can help with ticket sales in subsequent weeks.
Recently, that cycle appears to have been occurring in reverse, depressing theatrical grosses.
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