By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 1, 2014 at 11:24PM
Marking the 14th straight weekend of improved grosses over 2013 (going back to Thanksgiving), two less-heralded new releases scored strong Friday returns. Number one for the day at $10 million is the French/US co-production "Non-Stop," starring Liam Neeson, with domestic rights acquired by Universal. Close behind at #2 is "Son of God" (Twentieth Century Fox), a theatrical version of the successful cable miniseries "The Bible" from last year, which took in $9.4 million for the day. The top 10 grossed $31 million, up from $26 million last year.
Both new films are initial triumphs for their lead participants. This Oscar weekend seems 180 degrees away from these films' bread-and-butter mainstream elements. "Non-Stop" was co-produced by veteran Joel Silver, who last year terminated a relationship with Warner Bros. that went back decades. Working with StudioCanal, a leading European company, "Non-Stop" replicates the formula that made the two "Taken" films a success -- placing Liam Neeson in a tense life-threatening drama (in this case, as an air marshal on a transatlantic flight) and hiring an established genre-hit European director (Spain's Jaume Collet-Serra) to bring the goods home.
Credit marketing to church-groups and the under-served conservative Christian audience for interest in "Son of God" despite its previous wide viewing on cable and DVD. The film dominated weekend pre-sales. Its gross might be frontloaded, although its A- Cinemascore (shared with "Non-Stop") and possible family interest could make this a tight race for top spot for the weekend. This sort of reworking for theatrical is, if not unprecedented, at least unusual. The nature of the project and the outreach possible allowed for this unique opportunity to add to the major profits already realized by the project (produced by "Survivor" and "The Voice" creator Mark Burnett and actress wife Roma Downey).
These two films bumped three-week #1 "The Lego Movie" (Warner Bros.) to the third spot, with $4.4 million--it should pass $200 million sometime this weekend. The rest of the Top 10 all amassed less than $1.5 million, with "3 Days to Kill" (Relativity) and "Monuments Men" (Sony) virtually tied for #4 for the day (both a little over $1.4 million). Sony's "Pompeii" fell (with a big % drop) to #6, and the same company's "RoboCop" and "About Last Night" took #7 and 8: all three scored a little over $1 million. Long-playing "Ride Along" (Universal) and "Frozen" (Buena Vista) fill out the bottom spots at below a million.
Expanding just before the Oscars, where it likely loses to "Frozen" in the Animated Feature category, "The Wind Rises" (Buena Vista), the English-dubbed Japanese film from Hazao Miyazaki, did a decent $460,000 in 496 theaters, good for #13 despite its more limited release.