The booming North American box office was ruled by two stars who have successfully rebranded themselves in recent years with Liam Neeson’s action sequel Taken 2 remaining in first place for a second week in a row while Ben Affleck’s hostage crisis thriller Argo led a five-pack of new releases with a solid debut in the runner-up spot. Also opening well was the new horror hit Sinister in third as the overall marketplace was once again sharply ahead of last year’s grosses for a third straight weekend.
Audiences powered Taken 2 into the top spot again as the kidnapping hit grossed an estimated $22.5M in its sophomore frame pushing the ten-day tally to a strong $86.8M. The Fox release played like a typical action sequel falling 55% from its better-than-expected $49.5M debut. The decline was far greater than the 17% dip that its predecessor enjoyed in February 2009, but that was a leggy sleeper hit that moviegoers found over time thanks to sensational word-of-mouth. Taken 2 is on track to finish its domestic run with $135-140M which would put it just shy of the $145M of Taken. This is the first time Neeson has ever been the solo anchor of a number one hit over back-to-back weekends.
Audiences around the world continued to line up for the actor’s special set of skills as Taken 2 grossed an estimated $41M from international markets for a global weekend of $63.5M. The sequel has amassed $132.8M overseas and a stellar $219.6M worldwide to date.
Ben Affleck’s hostage thriller Argo enjoyed a solid debut in second place with an estimated $20.1M from 3,232 theaters for a good $6,225 average. The R-rated film based on the true story of a CIA agent’s covert operation into Iran to rescue Americans in hiding during the hostage crisis won top marks from both film critics and paying audiences alike. Reviews were glowing across the board and audiences polled by CinemaScore gave a rare A+ grade which bodes well for the film’s long-term playability. Set in the aftermath of the 1979 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Argo skewed extremely old and more female. Studio research showed that a whopping 74% of the audience was over age 35 and 54% were women. Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman acted along with Affleck who played the lead.
Argo did not reach the heights of Affleck’s last film The Town – another critically acclaimed drama with Oscar buzz released in the fall. That one, also released by Warner Bros., opened to $23.8M and a $8,322 average in September 2010 on its way to a $92.2M final. Despite being showered with awards buzz at the time of its release, it failed to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination which many industry experts predicted it would earn. With its more contemporary story and younger cast, Town played a bit younger. Argo could find itself with better legs thanks to its older audience plus it seems likely to score more points with Academy voters. Argo’s pro-America theme should continue to play well at the box office during this election season with all types of voters and the next two weekends will offer very little direct competition so solid holds are likely.
The new fright flick Sinister scared up the best opening for any horror film in ten months and placed third for the frame with an estimated $18.3M. The Summit title released by new owner Lionsgate averaged a stellar $7,222 from 2,527 theaters and was even the number one movie in the country on opening day beating Taken 2 by $425,000 on Friday before taking a drop on Saturday while all other films saw gains. The R-rated chiller stars Ethan Hawke but was sold more on its behind-the-scenes team with materials promoting that it was from the makers of the wildly successful Paranormal Activity films and Insidious.
That helped the well-reviewed Sinister post big numbers upfront but grosses fell 8% on Saturday and the C+ CinemaScore grade indicates the usual fast-burning horror road ahead – especially with Paranormal Activity 4 opening this Thursday night starting with 9:00pm shows on both conventional and IMAX screens. Exit polls indicated a young adult audience as 67% of the crowd was in the 18-34 age range while 54% was male. Sinister beat out recent openings for horror titles like August’s The Possession ($17.7M) and September’s House at the End of the Street ($12.3M).
Sony claimed the next two spots with a hit and a miss. The animated comedy Hotel Transylvania collected an estimated $17.3M in its third weekend, down 36%, pushing the cume past the century mark to $102.2M. It’s now the 13th $100M+ domestic grosser for Adam Sandler over the past 14 years. Though not sold as a Sandler vehicle, the spooky toon features the comedian voicing the main character Dracula. With Halloween still more than two weeks away, Hotel should continue to thrive at the box office and surpass $140M.
The funnyman’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry co-star Kevin James stumbled with his new broad comedy Here Comes the Boom which opened in fifth with an estimated $12M from 3,014 locations for a lukewarm $3,981 average. The PG-rated pic about a teacher who enters Mixed Martial Arts to earn money for his school played to a mixed crowd of families and general audiences and with a male skew. Reviews were mostly negative, though critical comments generally play a small role in the commercial playability of movies like these. Boom was produced by Sandler’s Happy Madison production company and directed by Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy). On the bright side, it earned a good A grade from CinemaScore though that does not guarantee legs in the weeks ahead.
In its second weekend of wide play, the college comedy Pitch Perfect dropped a reasonable 37% to an estimated $9.3M for a cume to date of $36.1M for Universal. The hold was certainly good, but not too impressive considering the very high exit polls it got from audiences. Still, the $17M production should finish up as a nice moneymaker in the $60M range before overseas and other ancillaries are factored in.
Disney’s stop-motion toon Frankenweenie fell by 39% in its sophomore round to an estimated $7M – another good but not exceptional hold for a quality film. The Tim Burton creation has grossed $22M in ten days and may be headed for a disappointing $40M final. The sci-fi pic Looper got hit hard falling 48% to an estimated $6.3M giving Sony $51.4M to date.
Competition for adult audiences proved to be too fierce this weekend for the well-reviewed crime saga Seven Psychopaths which opened poorly in ninth place with just $4.3M, according to estimates. The CBS release averaged a weak $2,889 from 1,480 playdates and will have a hard time as it tries to expand in two weeks to more of the country. Studio research showed that 62% of the audience was male and 71% was over 25. The CinemaScore was a decent B+. With Taken 2, Argo, and Looper to choose from, the target audience for Psychopaths found more high profile options to go with. Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson led the ensemble cast for the R-rated film.
The indie drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring Harry Potter’s Emma Watson jumped into the top ten in its national expansion grossing an estimated $2.2M putting it in tenth place. The Summit film widened from 221 to 726 locations and witnessed its per-theater average drop to a mild $2,983. Total to date is $6.2M.
Audiences rejected the Ayn Rand story Atlas Shrugged Part II which debuted outside the top ten despite a wide release in 1,012 theaters grossing an estimated $1.7M for a dismal $1,700 average. The opening weekend gross was identical to the bow that Part I generated in April 2011 however that one was released in less than one third of the theaters with only 299 sites for a more solid $5,640 average. Part II was backed by a larger investment into marketing and distribution but fans mostly ignored it.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $119.2M which was up a hefty 64% from last year when Real Steel remained at number one with $16.3M; and up a scant 2% from 2010 when Jackass 3D opened on top with a then-record $50.4M.