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No one expected much from this weekend's new thriller "3 Days to Kill." With "The Lego Movie" still unstoppable and last week's "About Last Night" and "RoboCop" still going strong, "3 Days" was expected to battle fellow newcomer "Pompeii" for fifth place -- and lose. For the spy tale, starring the 59-year-old Kevin Costner in the sort of role that he'd have had a much easier time selling 15 or 20 years ago, pundits predicted a debut as low as $8 million.

As it turns out, however, the movie opened in second place, above "Pompeii," with an estimated $12.3 million. Considering the movie's low-by-Hollywood-standards budget (a reported $28 million), "3 Days" is well on its way toward becoming a modest hit. (No doubt it will do even better overseas.)

Between "3 Days" and the six-week-old "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" (which has earned $123.9 million worldwide), Costner has two movies in the current top 20. And that's just the beginning of what looks like it's going to be a big year for the "Dances With Wolves" actor/director. He has three more movies due out this year, with leading roles in all of them, and with two of them centered on sports, a theme that's been a good match for Costner since "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams" a quarter-century ago.

Does all this mean we're on the verge of a Costner comeback? Maybe. From a box office standpoint, he certainly seems to be doing all the right things for someone in his position -- that is, former blockbuster hero about to turn 60. For instance:

Play supporting roles in franchise movies. One could argue Costner's comeback began last summer when he played Jonathan Kent, Superman's adoptive father in "Man of Steel." He didn't have to carry the picture, just do enough to remind older viewers of a dramatic presence they'd been missing. Plus, the movie was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit, based on its status as a reboot of a well-marketed franchise. Same goes for Costner's mentor role in the Jack Ryan reboot.

Court older viewers and overseas viewers. For most Hollywood studio films, the foreign audience is much more important now than the domestic audience. ("Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" has done 61 percent of its business abroad and just 39 percent here.) And the older audience is also becoming increasingly important, as dependable monthly filmgoers with disposable income to spend. Costner is ideally positioned to capitalize on both groups, neither of which ever lost its fondness for the Hollywood stars of the '80s and '90s. And an adult-oriented thriller like "3 Days," concerned with fatherhood, retirement, and mortality as well as the usual espionage heroics, is also poised to appeal to viewers over 30.

Work with Luc Besson. The French action film guru ("La Femme Nikita," "The Professional") is the writer/producer/director who turned Liam Neeson into an AARP-aged action mainstay with "Taken." He's also one of the writers of Costner's new "3 Days to Kill." His touch isn't always golden ("The Family" didn't really do a thing for Robert De Niro or Michelle Pfeiffer last year), but he still has a pretty good grasp on what international audiences like.

Work with name directors. Costner worked with Zack Snyder on "Men of Steel," Kenneth Branagh on "Jack Ryan," and McG on "3 Days." OK, none of these guys is Spielberg or Scorsese, but they're all proven hitmakers. The directors of his upcoming movies are Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters," "No Strings Attached"), Mike Binder (indie hit "The Upside of Anger), and Niki Caro ("Whale Rider").

Work cheap. Most of Costner's 2014 movies are independently-made films shot on a budget. Even "3 Days," made for $28 million, is still a bargain, especially by Hollywood spy thriller standards. "Jack Ryan" was a big studio film, and even that cost just $60 million, still modest by studio blockbuster standards. At that level, the financial risk is lower, and so is the bar for success, which is why tiny champagne corks are popping over the fact that "3 Days" made $12.3 million instead of $8 million this weekend.

Work in your comfort zone. Costner's current thrillers aren't too far afield for the actor who first made a name for himself in movies like "No Way Out" and "The Untouchables." And two of his upcoming films, Reitman's "Draft Day" and Caro's "McFarland," are about sports, only with Costner as coach instead of player, as he was in movies from "Bull Durham" to "Upside of Anger." The only movie that might be a stretch is Binder's race-themed "Black and White," but Binder is also the director who coaxed Costner's most acclaimed dramatic performance of the last decade in "Upside."

Be ubiquitous. Mind you, none of this speaks to whether Costner's new movies are any good or not; "Jack Ryan" and "3 Days" have received mixed reviews and lackluster word-of-mouth at best." Still, with five movies due in 2014, Costner is going to be impossible to ignore, whether moviegoers want him back or not.
3 Days to Kill Movie Poster
3 Days to Kill
Based on 30 critics

Facing a terminal disease, spy Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) has decided to give up his dangerous, high-stakes... Read More

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