Liam Neeson's 'Non-Stop' Kills at the Box Office, Proves He's King of the Action Blockbuster

This past weekend, while film's finest prepared to take to the red carpet to celebrate the Academy Awards, America took to the movie theaters to celebrate the latest in Liam Neeson's action heroics: Non-Stop grossed an estimated $30 million in ticket sales, vaunting it ahead of Christian biopic Son of God's $26.5 million and The Lego Movie's $21 million to top the weekend box office. The plane-based thriller features Neeson as an air marshal who is contacted mid-flight by a mysterious texting menace threatening to kill someone on board every 20 minutes. Julianne Moore also stars as a fellow passenger (who — guess-spoiler — is probably secretly the bad guy, right?) alongside 12 Years a Slave breakout star Lupita Nyong'o as a flight attendant. Still, this is pretty clearly Neeson's show: "I'm not hijacking this plane — I'm trying to save it!" he roars at the trailer's climax, at once enraged and beleaguered and oh-so-Irishly-accented, before catching a gun in midair and firing it sideways. It's not hard to imagine why so many people cashed in on tickets.

Though Neeson's career has seen plenty of varied roles — from a widower in the classic rom-com Love Actually to a priest in Neil Jordan's campy Breakfast on Pluto to the Oscar-nominated Oskar Schindler — he seems to have found his niche as of late in this particular brand of magnum-slinging action heroism. (Or, rather, the studios have found it for him.) Take 2008's Taken, which could best be described as "Liam Neeson is a badass for 80 minutes," followed by Taken 2, best described as "Well, it worked once!" Not to mention The Grey, which I can only imagine was pitched as "Neeson. Wolves." and still managed to get a green light.

There's an argument to be made that Neeson makes for a compelling action hero specifically because he seems almost miscast in all his thespian pathos: the soulful eyes, the everyman shoulder-slump — combined, now, with superhuman combat skills. Unlike Vin Diesel or Jean-Claude "The Muscles From Brussels" Van Damme, Neeson doesn't look like the bastard child of a weight bench and a pound of protein powder; he could be your local beat cop, your friendly neighborhood air marshal, or your dad, who roundhouse-kicks his way through Europe to come to your rescue. It's a one-two punch of empathy and, well, one-two punches. I mean, this is the guy who made a greying Fu Manchu mustache look passable in Batman Begins. He played Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars prequels and we forgave him. Clearly, the man can do no wrong — and studios are cashing in on that capital to peddle high-concept, high-budget product.

Still, despite its nationwide success, Non-Stop has been receiving mixed reviews from critics, many of whom find its plot garbled — the implausibilities not sufficiently justified by the flash-bang heroics. (At press time, it sported a score of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes.) And yet, that doesn't seem to have deterred filmgoers hungry for some sweet Neeson one-liners. Whether his latest film will continue to dominate the box office remains to be seen, but Neeson's silver screen action cachet shows no signs of flagging. The proof? Taken 3: What, Is This Girl's Hobby Getting Kidnapped? is already in the works.