Taken revamped star Liam Neeson's career, turning him into Hollywood's go-to aging action hero, but the now 68-year-old actor admits he once expected the French action-thriller to go "straight-to-video." Released internationally in February 2008 before hitting U.S. theaters in January 2009 and carrying a price tag of just $25 million, Taken launched a franchise when the Pierre Morel-directed action flick earned $226 million worldwide. A pair of sequels, both directed by Olivier Megaton, followed in 2012 and 2014; Taken 2 punched up $376 million globally, topping the $326 million earned by the trilogy's final installment reuniting Neeson with co-stars Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen.
"I've said this before, and no offense to Robert Kamen, our wonderful writer and my pal, but I thought, 'Well, this is going to go straight-to-video. A short little European thriller, it might play okay for a couple weeks in France and then it will go straight-to-video,'" Neeson told Entertainment Weekly ahead of new dramedy Made in Italy. "But it did well in France and then it went straight to South Korea, and it did very well there."
Neeson believed Taken had "gone into the ether" when his nephews from Ireland proudly told him they downloaded the talked-about movie from South Korea. The surprise hit, produced by Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element director Luc Besson, was distributed in the U.S. by 20th Century Fox and proved itself worthy of theatrical release when Taken took in a starting $9.4 million — the best opening day for Super Bowl weekend.
"Fox took it and they very cleverly did a good trailer and put it during various sporting events around the country and they made it a real success," Neeson said. "I remember the first weekend it came in at No. 3, and then it came up to No. 2 and then No. 1, and then it went down to No. 4, and it came up to No. 3 again. It just had this extraordinary cycle."
"That's where it started, and then there were plans to do a second one and a third one, of course," he continued. "So it was luck, and you need some luck in this business."
The movie pits Neeson's retired CIA operative Bryan Mills against human traffickers who take his daughter, Kim (Grace), after she travels abroad with a friend.
After reading its script, Neeson approached Besson at a film festival, telling the producer, "'Look, I'm sure I'm nowhere near your list of actors for this, but I used to be a boxer, I love doing fight scenes, I've done quite a few sorcery movies with swords and s---. Please think of me for this.'"
"Push came to shove and he offered it to me," Neeson said. "And I obviously was a kid in a toy shop doing it, hanging with these stunt guys and working on these fight scenes and arms training — I loved it."