He might have turned 60 this year but Liam Neeson has fast become one of the world’s most bankable action movie stars.
The Ballymena man’s new film Taken 2 — the follow-up to the 2008 smash Taken — has stormed to the top of the box office around the globe in its opening weekend, pulling in close to $50m (£31m) in the US alone.
Not only did it double the haul of the original Taken, which raked in $24.7m (£15.5m) when it opened in America, but Taken 2 has become the third largest debut for an October release ever.
Taken 2 has been slated by many movie critics, with just 20% recommending the movie on survey site Rottentomatoes.com. Analysts were expecting the sequel to debut at around $38m (£24m) for the weekend.
But Neeson fans voted with their feet and packed out cinemas to watch the A-lister resume his role as a retired CIA agent.
The film added $55m (£24m) more in around 50 international markets to raise a total of $117m (£73m). And it has also been setting the box office alight in Neeson’s native Northern Ireland.
Movie House managing director Michael McAdam said the sequel was by far the most popular choice at all five of its cinemas at the weekend.
“Taken 2 created a fantastic buzz in the cinema this weekend, it was an absolutely fabulous opening weekend for the film,” he said.
“It was definitely the most popular film in all of our cinemas and is the best-performing film of the autumn so far. We had quite a few performances sell out.
“Mr Neeson is welcome at our cinemas any time.”
Mr McAdam said Taken 2 will face tough competition when the new Bond film Skyfall comes out later this month, followed by the final Twilight film in November.
Paul Dergarnbedian, analyst for box office tracker, Hollywood.com, said Neeson had beaten an unusual path to action-hero status.
“He's done the reverse of most actors, where you do the action stuff when you’re younger then do the more introspective work when you’re older,” he said.
“He’s sort of turned it around. When he’s 80, he’ll probably be kicking even more butt.”
Gitesh Pandya of Boxofficeguru.com said the sequel benefited from the original's long run in cinemas and its healthy life on home video.
Neeson worked overtime on the talk show circuit to promote the film, including a recent appearance on the Jonathan Ross Show. Afterwards, fans of the Ballymena actor took to Twitter to express their excitement at the prospect of seeing him in action again as former CIA operative Bryan Mills.
In Taken 2 he uses his espionage expertise to take on a gang of thugs out for revenge on him and his family.
It is understood, however, that there will not be a third movie in the Taken series.