After three years, we essentially have a new movie tradition on our hands. Since 2009, a Liam Neeson film has opened every January, earning around $20 million in its opening weekend. That much money during one of the box office's most consistently bad months more than proves Neeson's worth as a cold-weather action star. And it doesn't get much colder than "The Grey." The Arctic thriller won the box office in a surprisingly good weekend for business. Though it made slightly less than Neeson's previous two January releases,"Taken" and "Unknown," the success of "The Grey" signals the star's continued drawing power. The $20 million take seems even more impressive when you consider that Open Road advertised the movie as little more than Liam Neeson versus wolves. Anyone who saw "The Grey" can attest to a much different picture, one distinctly lacking any of the promised wolf punching. The film plays out much more like an existential drama about men surviving in the wilderness than the supposed "Taken" with wolves premise.
There are spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the film.
As those who saw "The Grey" this weekend will recall, after the wolves pick off the survivors of the crew one by one, Neeson's character, Ottway, moves on as the only man left. He holds onto the wallets of the men who have died in order to preserve some sort of legacy for the forgotten oil workers. The flashbacks to Ottway's wife or girlfriend throughout the film suggest that she left him, but the final look back reveals her illness and presumed death. After cursing God, Ottway finds himself in the wolves' den, the center of all the evil that has been hunting him. The poem his father wrote persuades him to continue to fight despite overwhelming odds. He tapes a knife and broken bottles to his hands and prepares to fight. The screen goes dark suddenly, and the film ends without showing Ottway's fight, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks and think about what they've seen. Director and co-writer Joe Carnahan spoke with MTV News about the creative decisions behind the ending, choices he felt obligated to make. "I felt that to end it any other way, I felt that would be spoon-feeding the audience something that I wasn't interested in spoon-feeding them," Carnahan said. "I think the movie's about something as massive and as mysterious as life and death."
Regardless of how you feel about the ending - whether it signals to a deeper meaning or just leaves promises unfulfilled - Carnahan deserves credit for shirking the expected Hollywood ending. Though fans showed support with ticket sales, the CinemaScore exit polling was not as approving. "The Grey" earned a "B-" from audiences, two marks less than its weekend competition"Man on a Ledge" - which earned a"B+" - and the same score as "One for the Money." Even if audiences were mildly disappointed as the CinemaScore suggests, Carnahan sees his story as one that required the ending he gave it. "I think it's like, you have to decide for you: Is it a movie about a man living and dying or is it a movie about a man fighting a wolf?" Carnahan said. "Because I think it is incidental, at least in my mind, compared to the great questions that it creates in the end."