It’s no surprise that "Cinderella" beat "Run All Night" among newcomers this weekend. The Disney live-action fairy tale was widely expected to suck all the oxygen out of the box office, and its estimated $70.1 million debut is in line with predictions.
Still, "Run All Night" seemed like it would be smart counter-programming, drawing older men who wouldn’t be interested in a movie made for young girls. Yet "Run All Night" underperformed even its modest predictions (in the $14 million range), opening instead at just an estimated $11.0 million.
For the third week in a row, then, Hollywood experts will be tearing their hair out, wondering if a formerly sure-fire leading man (Will Smith two weeks ago, Vince Vaughn last week, and now Liam Neeson) has permanently lost his mojo. In each case, despite a recent downward trend, the funeral arrangements seem premature. True, it’s not hard to see why Neeson’s career appears to be in trouble. Nonetheless, "Run All Night" had a particular set of problems that can account for its failure, meaning it’s too soon to write Neeson off just yet.
Here’s what went wrong with "Run All Night."
The Premise: A world-weary Neeson is forced to pull out his guns to protect his adult child from abductors and killers. Sounds like the "Taken" movies, the most recent of which was in theaters just two months ago. Plus, "Run" was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson’s thrillers "Unknown" and "Non-Stop." So if the action beats seemed familiar, maybe there was a reason.
The Marketing: "Run" is supposed to be a gritty, nocturnal New York City thriller. So why does the trailer show Neeson, in apparent daylight, shooting a rifle in the forest? Is he going after antagonist Ed Harris or hunting Bambi?
The Timing: Speaking of baffling marketing decisions, why was the film’s release date moved from April to March? In April, it would have faced off against the admittedly formidable "Fast & Furious" franchise ("Furious 7" opens April 3), but not much else. Besides, those movies skew younger than Neeson’s do. In March, however, he’s facing off against a saturated market for movies aimed at older guys, from Will Smith’s caper "Focus" to VInce Vaughn’s old-dog-new-tricks comedy "Unfinished Business" to Sean Penn’s similar thriller "The Gunman" (opening next weekend). Not to mention competing against himself; couldn’t the studio have put another month of breathing room between "Taken 3" and "Run"? Hey, maybe these older leading men aren’t having slumps; maybe they’re just having trouble competing against each other (or themselves) for the same audience.
The Reviews: "Run" earned very good word-of-mouth (as indicated by its A- grade at CinemaScore), so those fans who saw it liked it. But critics weren’t as fond; it got a 59 out of 100 score at both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately for the film, its target demographic — people old enough to be fans of both Liam Neeson and Ed Harris — still cares what critics say, even more than recommendations from friends.
The ‘Cinderella’ Factor: There was no way the Disney fairy tale wasn’t going to steal the box office thunder of every other movie this weekend. First off, ever since "Alice in Wonderland" five years ago, Disney has perfected a template for releasing lavish live-action fairy tale adaptations in the spring. Second, the title has more built-in familiarity than last year’s "Maleficent," "Oz the Great and Powerful," or even "Alice." Third, the reviews were strong, as was the word-of-mouth (measured by an A grade at CinemaScore). And fourth, the movie had the eagerly anticipated short "Frozen Fever" tacked on, just in case the feature wasn’t a big enough draw for princess-loving little girls and tweens. The movie couldn’t miss, and it didn’t. Even without the benefit of 3D surcharges, it still opened bigger than "Maleficent," which did have 3D and a better release date (in May) but still came in just a hair behind "Cinderella" with $69.4 million.
Bad Luck: A year ago, Neeson had a sizable hit with "Non-Stop," which opened at $28.9 million on its way to a $92.2 million domestic gross. Since then, however, he’s had three disappointments in a row: September’s "A Walk Among the Tombstones" (which still opened higher than "Run," with $12.8 million, though it finished with just $26.3 million), "Taken 3" (which had the misfortune of competing against "American Sniper," a bigger smash than anyone had anticipated, and which finished with the lowest take of any of the "Taken" movies, and yet which still earned a solid $88.4 million), and now "Run."
Still, this slump looks worse than it is. "Tombstones" earned another $26.8 million abroad, for a global total of $53.2 million; not bad for an arty thriller that cost a reported $28 million to make. "Taken 3" still earned another $201.1 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $289.5 million. Lots of stars would kill for that kind of disappointment.
Overseas figures aren’t in yet for "Run," but there’s no reason to assume, if Neeson’s pattern holds true, that the film won’t make at least half its money abroad. Like many leading men, Neeson has a big enough following in the rest of the world to keep the 62-year-old star cracking skulls as long as he wants.