It hasn’t been a good week for Liam Neeson. Even after a follow-up interview on “Good Morning America,” he’s still getting raked over the coals for telling the story of how he fantasized about killing “some black bastard” after a friend was raped. And now, his latest gritty action film, “Cold Pursuit,” is yielding one of the worst opening weekends in the actor’s box office career.
To be fair, “Cold Pursuit” was likely to suffer this box office fate even before Neeson told this now-infamous story during the press tour for the film. Prior to this past week, the Lionsgate film was expected by independent trackers to only open to $7-10 million, and it has just barely beaten that range with a $10.8 million start. That is the worst opening for any wide release starring Neeson since 2010, when he starred alongside Russell Crowe in “The Next Three Days,” which opened to $6.5 million.
When you narrow down Neeson’s filmography to the jagged-edge revenge thrillers and shoot-em-ups that have revitalized the actor’s reputation, “Cold Pursuit” looks even worse. Neeson’s career as an action star peaked in 2012 with “Taken 2,” which opened to $49.5 million and grossed $376 million worldwide. But this opening is closer to the $11 million launch for his 2015 film “Run All Night.”
But to find an action film starring Neeson that opened worse than “Pursuit,” you have to go all the way back to even before “Schindler’s List,” when Neeson appeared in Sam Raimi’s disturbing 1990 superhero revenge film “Darkman.”
In that film, Neeson plays a scientist who is horrifically disfigured by a mobster, losing the ability to feel pain and becoming mentally unstable. Using a synthetic skin he had been developing prior to the attack, he disguises himself as the mobster’s men to plot his revenge while hiding his burned, melted body from his girlfriend, played by Frances McDormand. “Darkman” became a cult film among Raimi fans for Neeson’s insane performance, but only opened to $8 million in August 1990 and grossed $48 million worldwide.
Regardless of the controversy, signs were already showing that audiences had gotten enough of Neeson playing men on roaring rampages of revenge. But now it remains to be seen whether the backlash to his interview will have an impact on future roles. He is set to appear in the upcoming summer blockbuster “Men in Black: International,” as well as alongside Lesley Manville in Bleecker Street’s romance film “Normal People.”
And he will be picking up a gun once again in “Honest Thief,” a film about a thief who plans to turn himself in for the good of his family, but then decides to fight back once he gets a glimpse of the corruption of the government that would apprehend him.