‘Year of the Spy’ starts strong at U.S. box office with Taken 3

Taken 3 poster

Taken 3 poster

The “Year of the Spy” got off to a strong start as Taken 3 ruled the U.S. box office.

The third installment of the series starring Liam Neeson generated an estimated $40.4 million for the Jan. 9-11 weekend, according to the BOX OFFICE MOJO WEBSITE.. At No. 2 was Selma at $11.2 million.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER reported Taken 3’s early worldwide total was $81.4 million.

Taken 3 didn’t get many good reviews. The film had a 12 percent score at the ROTTEN TOMATOES WEBSITE, which compiles and categorizes reviews.

As of Jan. 11, there were nine “fresh” Taken 3 reviews and 66 “rotten” ones, according to the website. A sample of the latter was from David Hiltbrand of THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. “Nothing gets taken here except your ticket money.”

In the three Taken movies, Neeson plays ex-operative Bryan Mills. In the series finale, Mills’ ex-wife is murdered and he’s framed for the crime.

Preview of 2015’s ‘Year of the Spy’

Taken 3 poster

Taken 3 poster

We’re just a few days away from 2015, which will be the “Year of the Spy” in theaters. It might not be 1966 all over again but fans of spy movies will have choices in the new year.

What follows is a preview of five notable entries, listed by U.S. release date.

Taken 3, Jan. 9: This is the poster child for how studios like to take successful movies and turn them into “franchises.”

2009’s Taken was a modestly budgeted $25 million, according to Box Office Mojo, which generated almost $227 million in worldwide box office. It concerned a retired CIA agent (Liam Neeson) who springs into action after his college age daughter is kidnapped in Europe. It helped make Neeson, now 62, an action hero.

A sequel, Taken 2, came out in 2012. The budget went up, at $45 million, but worldwide box office also increased to $376 million. Thus, a trilogy was inevitable. Whether the saga of Bryan Mills is worth a third installment remains to be seen.

Kingsman: The Secret Service, Feb. 13: For more than a decade, grim and gritty has dominated the cinema spy scene. The Bourne films, the rebooted James Bond franchise and other films set a serious tone.

Kingsman, directed by Matthew Vaughn, draws upon more escapist spy entertainment of the 1960s.

The film is based on a comic book, The Secret Service, that was about MI6. The movie’s organization is a mysterious, international group, a la The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series (it even has a secret entrance similar to U.N.C.L.E.’s) In July, at the massive San Diego comic book convention, principals of the film mentioned ’60s style Bond movies and The Avengers television series as influences.

Kingsman may be a test whether the spy pendulum swings back toward escapist. In the U.S., the movie opens opposite the anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey, which will provide a test of a different sort.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Aug. 14: A more accurate title for the Guy Ritchie-directed film might be The Man Without U.N.C.L.E.

Ritchie’s film is an origin story. There is no U.N.C.L.E. at the start of the tale. Instead, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are required to join forces. It’s a Solo-Kuryakin story that won’t have many of the memes of the original 1964-68 television series.

U.N.C.L.E. originally was slated for a mid-January release date, but got put back to mid-August instead. The move came after Warner Bros. conducted test screenings in June. The optimistic interpretation is it’s a sign the studio is higher on the movie than previously. We’ll see.
SPECTRE LOGO
SPECTRE, Nov. 6: The 24th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions has had more public intrigue than usual because of the hacking of documents at Sony Pictures.

Because of the hacks, details about the movie’s budget and script development have become public. Thus, it’s possible to see some of the sausage making associated with movie production in the case of SPECTRE. Even before the hacks, Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail had reported how screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summmoned to revamp John Logan’s original draft.

Still, Bond is Bond. The film is Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as 007. Sam Mendes, the director of 2012’s Skyfall, is back as well. This will be the first time the same director has helmed consecutive Bond films since John Glen’s run in the 1980s, when he directed five in a row.

Mission: Impossible 5, Dec. 25: The latest Tom Cruise M:I film hasn’t gotten as much attention as you might expect for a Cruise project. The star-producer’s last M:I entry, in 2011, was a hit. This time out, M:I will come out just a week after Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. So it’ll be interesting to see if Cruise’s Ethan Hunt can still find an audience.

Spielberg interested in Matt Helm; is a faithful adaptation possible?

Variety reported on July 29 that Steven Spielberg was interested in directing a Matt Helm movie.

An excerpt: Spielberg’s camp said he is attached to produce, but it’s unclear if he’s going to direct. Clearly, Spielberg is excited about the project again after the rewrite that Paul Attanasio delivered last week.

A day later, reports on various web sites said Spielberg would only produce, not direct, such a movie.

In any case, this has gotten fans of Donald Hamilton’s 27 Helm novels, published between 1960 and 1993, wondering whether a faithful movie might get made.

The four Helm movies of the 1960s with Dean Martin were nominally based on the books and took an escapist bent. The trailer of the second film, Murderers’ Row demonstrates what we mean:

To get an idea of what a faithful Helm movie would be like, well, Helm would be played a lot like the Liam Neeson character in Taken: