This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Will there be a Taken 3? If so, producers of the smash-hit action franchise will need to pony up for star Liam Neeson in the wake of the surprise $49.5 million domestic bow by Taken 2.
No one expected a moneymaking franchise when the first Taken, about a retired CIA agent who unleashes all manner of hell to find his kidnapped daughter in France, was released in January 2009 after sitting on a shelf for nearly a year. That included filmmaker-producer Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, which produced the movie, French director Pierre Morel and Fox, which distributed the movie. After the film grossed $145 million domestically ($81.8 million internationally), Fox took a large ownership stake in the property and set about making a sequel. Besson and Robert Mark Kamen returned as writers (with Olivier Megaton replacing Morel), emphasizing the daughter role played by Maggie Grace and even bringing back Famke Janssen as Neeson's wife. The result: Taken 2's global haul reached $116.3 million by Oct. 7, and it will likely far outpace the original's global tally of $226.8 million.
But a third movie is not a slam dunk. To be sure, Fox and EuropaCorp would like another sequel, but the real question mark is Neeson. According to insiders, the CAA-repped actor was paid just $1 million for Taken, with no sequel language in the contract. After the movie hit big, Neeson suddenly found himself receiving leading-man offers. He upped his quote by starring in such action movies as The A-Team, Unknown and The Grey, so when it came time to negotiate for Taken 2, he was able to extract more than $10 million, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.
Given the muscular box office of Taken 2, agency sources think Neeson could command $20 million-plus if he wanted to reprise the role -- a mark once considered standard for big franchise roles but now reserved for the likes of Johnny Depp and Will Smith in the right projects.
Fox insiders say it is too early to talk about the possibility of a third film. And both Neeson's interest and the timing are unclear. Nearly four years passed between Taken and Taken 2, and if that timetable were repeated, then Neeson, who turned 60 in June, would be close to retirement age in Taken 3 (though senior citizen status hasn't slowed the Expendables crew). Still, some insiders believe that if a sequel were to happen, it would have to shoot in 2013.