January has been very good to Liam Neeson. Both the original Taken and its sequel Taken 3 came out in the first month of their respective years, and both were certified hits, with Taken pulling in an impressive $145 million in its full domestic run (though Taken 3 didn't quite do well enough to bring about a Taken 4). Neeson's 2012 survival flick The Grey also bowed in January and though it wasn't a success on the same level as Taken, it still did a respectable $51 million. Neeson also provided voice acting for the January release The Nut Job which did $64 million at the box office.
It might be a slight exaggeration to call Neeson the King of January, but there's no question his movies have done well in that early-year release window, a time generally seen as a dumping ground for movies that studios aren't sure about. Lionsgate is hoping the Neeson January effect is not just a fluke as they have decided to move one of his upcoming films into that window.
According to Deadline, Neeson's planned October 2017 release The Commuter has now been pushed back to January 12th, 2018. Co-starring Vera Farmiga, the movie is described as a thriller with Hitchcockian elements reminiscent of Strangers on a Train and North By Northwest. The film also stars Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern and Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul fan favorite Jonathan Banks. Action veteran Jaume Collet-Serra directed, his fourth time working with Neeson.
Neeson plays the title character, an insurance salesman who finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game after a mysterious stranger makes contact with him on a train (one anticipates a whole lot of shouting into phones). The plot about a regular guy who unwittingly becomes a player in a life-or-death scenario definitely echoes of Hitchcock's North By Northwest. Neeson himself has often played characters forced into deadly games, though the actor usually is not just a regular guy, but one with a particular set of skills.
Moving The Commuter off of its planned October 13th release date may have been a case of Lionsgate trying to protect the film from an over-abundance of competition. That weekend will be busy for action films with Blade Runner 2049 and Kingsman: The Golden Circle in their second weekends, and Michael Fassbender's Universal thriller Snowman coming out.
Releasing a Neeson action thriller in January at this point feels about as natural as releasing a Star Wars movie at Christmas or an Avengers movie in May. Neeson's brand name recognition means The Commuter has a decent chance to sneak up and grab some dollars against weak early-year competition. If you like watching Neeson in action movies you might want to check it out, as he has said he plans to retire from the genre.
The Commuter hits theaters January 12, 2018.