(Updates with final weekend totals.)
Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The Liam Neeson action film “The Grey” opened in first place in U.S. and Canadian cinemas, taking in $19.7 million for Open Road Films, the distributor founded last year by the three largest U.S. theater chains.
“One for the Money,” starring Katherine Heigl, was third in its first weekend, with $11.8 million, researcher Hollywood.com Box-Office said today in an e-mailed statement. “Man on a Ledge” was fifth in its debut with $8 million.
“The Grey” is Open Road’s second release, following “Killer Elite” in September. Owned by Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc., the company was a response to shrinking output by major studios. “The Grey” was expected to have sales of about $14.5 million, the estimate of BoxOffice.com.
“Regal and AMC can go back to Hollywood and say, ‘See, these are the kinds of movies people want to see,’” Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co. in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a real coup for them that they got Neeson for this role.”
The weekend also brought increased sales for a few films that garnered Academy Awards nominations last week. “The Artist,” nominated for best picture, recorded a 40 percent rise in receipts.
“This film is pretty much the favorite to win the best picture Oscar,” Phil Contrino, the editor of Boxoffice.com, said in a telephone interview.
Sales more than doubled for “The Descendants,” also a best-film contender.
Contrino said the improvement by “The Descendants,” which was eighth with $6.4 million after expanding by 1,441 screens, also was driven by the nominations.
“This is a great example of a movie building an audience by word of mouth,” Contrino said. George Clooney is viewed as the favorite to win the best actor award, he said.
From 2006 to 2010, best-picture winners on average had $57.2 million in box-office sales heading into the nominations and $42.9 million afterward, according to research by Santa Monica, California-based IbisWorld, an industry researcher.
‘One for the Money’
First place’s “The Grey” features Neeson as the leader of a group of oil-rig workers who are stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash. They are threatened by a pack of wolves. Dermot Mulroney co-stars.
“Underworld: Awakening,” last weekend’s top film, fell to second with sales of $12.4 million for Sony Corp. The movie, the fourth film in the vampire-versus-werewolf series, has taken in $45 million since it opened on Jan. 20.
“One for the Money,” distributed in the U.S. by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., features Heigl as an out-of-work woman who takes a job with a bail-bond company. Desperate for money, she goes after the biggest bail jumper, a former police officer accused of murder. Jason O’Mara and Daniel Sunjata co-star.
“Red Tails,” from News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox, was fourth with $10.4 million in receipts. The movie follows the training and deployment of the first U.S. fighter squadron staffed by black pilots at Tuskegee, Alabama. The film stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr.
“Man on a Ledge,” from Summit Entertainment LLC, stars Sam Worthington as a police officer convicted of stealing a famous diamond. After escaping custody, he stands on the ledge of a New York high-rise in a plot to clear his name. Elizabeth Banks co-stars.
Weekend revenue for the top 12 films rose 6.4 percent to $98.3 million from a year earlier, Hollywood.com said. Year to date, revenue is up 12 percent and attendance 13 percent. The amounts below are based on actual tickets sales for Jan. 27 through yesterday.
--Editors: Rob Golum, Sylvia Wier, Pierre Paulden
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael White in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org; Dan Hart in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at firstname.lastname@example.org