'Taken 2' Gunning Down 'Argo,' 'Sinister' for Repeat Box-Office Win

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'Taken 2' Gunning Down 'Argo,' 'Sinister' for Repeat Box-Office Win
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'Taken 2' Gunning Down 'Argo,' 'Sinister' for Repeat Box-Office Win

"Taken 2" is on the way to a repeat victory at the weekend box office, rolling up an estimated $7 million Friday that puts it on pace for about $23 million over the three days.

The R-rated Liam Neeson thriller was on 3,706 screens, 45 more than it was in its debut weekend, when it took in nearly $50 million. Its overall domestic gross now stands at more than $71 million and more than $140 million worldwide.

"Argo," Warner Bros.' political thriller written and directed by Ben Affleck, brought in $5.9 million from 3,232 screens in its first day and is on track for a weekend of between $17 million and $18 million.

Audiences loved it, giving it an "A+" CinemaScore. The solid start and the likelihood that it will play steadily for weeks because of its older-skewing audience are positive signs for "Argo," which has been mentioned as an awards contender. Studio executives were hoping to open above $15 million, and industry analysts' projections ranged from $16 million to $24 million.

Also read: Ben Affleck: 'Argo' Is a 'Hard Movie to Sell' (Exclusive)

Sony's over-achieving animated kids film "Hotel Transylvania" continued to show real staying power in its third week in theaters. It brought in $4.2 million Friday from 3,375 screens. That ups its overall domestic gross to $89 million and puts it on track for an $18 million weekend. 

Summit's low-budget horror thriller "Sinister," starring Ethan Hawke, scared up the highest Friday total with $7.4 million from 2,527 screens and is looking at around $17 million for the three days.

The Friday numbers were swelled by early Thursday screening and midnight shows and audiences gave it just a "C+" CinemaScore, but five times the production budget in one day at the box office makes the weekend for producers Jason Blum, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and writer and director Scott Derrickson

The weekend's other wide openers, Sony's Kevin James sports comedy "Here Comes the Boom" and CBS Films' "Seven Psychopaths," weren't close to those numbers.

Sony's "Boom" managed $3.6 million from 3,014 screens on Friday, putting it on pace for a three-day total of around $11 million.  Audiences gave it an "A" CinemaScore, so Sony is hoping it will play for a few weeks.

The same is true for "Seven Psychopaths," which brought in $1.3 million from 1,480 locations and is looking at $4.1 million for the weekend. Audiences under 25 gave "Seven Psychopaths" an "A-" CinemaScore, giving CBS Films something to build on when it expands the film in two weeks.

Universal's comedy musical "Pitch Perfect" did $2.9 million Friday and is on pace for a $9 million weekend.

"Frankenweenie,' Disney's black-and-white stop-motion animated film from Tim Burton, brought in $1.7 million Friday and will wind up with around $6 million for its second weekend. It's overall gross isat $20 million.

The weekend's other opener, "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," from Atlas Distribution , took in around $690,000 million from 1,102 locations and is on pace to take in a disappointing $1.8 million for the weekend.

For the third consecutive week the box office should finish ahead of the corresponding week a year ago. If it stays on its Friday pace, it could finish more than 40 percent ahead of last year, when "Real Steel" was the No. 1 film in its second week with $16.3 million.

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Vengeance, and the top spot at the U.S. box office, will continue to be Liam Neeson's this weekend, with reigning champ "Taken 2' expected to hold off four wide openers.

"Argo," the political thriller from Warner Bros. written and directed by Ben Affleck, appears to pose the biggest threat, and Summit's horror thriller "Sinister" is a wild card. Fox's "Taken 2" is projected to bring in around $25 million, "Argo" around $20 million and "Sinister" will be in the high-teen millions, industry analysts say.

It's a crowded and strong marketplace. Sony is debuting the Kevin James sports comedy "Here Comes the Boom" and CBS Films is rolling out the well-reviewed action comedy "Seven Psychopaths." That's on top of Sony's over-achieving kids film "Hotel Transylvania," back for its third week, and Universal's upstart musical comedy "Pitch Perfect," in its second week.

Also read: Is 'Taken 2' the Limit? Foreign Box Office Makes 'Taken 3' a Good Bet

The overall box office should be up for the third consecutive week, which will make the end-of-summer doldrums just a memory. The past two weeks, coupled with the strong start of the year, have the domestic box office at $8.26 billion. That's nearly 4 percent up on 2011 and attendance is up 2 percent for the year, according to tracking service Exhibitor Relations Co.

The R-rated "Argo" has been well-reviewed -- nearly 90 percent of the reviews at Movie Review Intelligence are positive -- and it has even drawn awards buzz, but "Taken 2" targets the same over-25 action audience.

The Neeson sequel, also R-rated, delivered a stunning $50 million in its debut last weekend and has played strongly through the week to raise its domestic gross to more than $62 million. It's added 45 theaters and is up to 3,706 locations.

"Argo" is based on the true story of a rescue mission that utilized a fake production of a sci-fi movie to free six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck, who produced the film with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, also stars along with Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman.

Also read: 'Argo' Review: Ben Affleck Nail-Biter Is a Smart Thrill Ride

Affleck broke out as a writer-director in his second film 2010's "The Town," which opened to nearly $24 million and went on to make $97 million domestically, more than double its production budget.

"But this is something of a political film," ERC's senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap, "whereas 'The Town' was a pure heist flick and probably had more appeal to younger audiences. It's hard to see 'Argo' matching that, especially going up against 'Taken 2.'"

Skeptical predictions point up the similarities between "Argo" and last year's "Ides of March." That political thriller opened to $10 million last October and topped out at $41 million. Warner Bros. has "Argo" on 3,232 screens, making it the week's widest opener.

"Sinister" is an R-rated horror thriller from Summit Entertainment, starring Ethan Hawke as a true-crime novelist who discovers a box of home movies that puts his own family in the path of a supernatural entity.

It has a great horror pedigree. The film's producers are Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity," "Insidious") and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones ("Insidious") and the writer and director is Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"). Juliet Rylance and James Ransone co-star.

With Halloween coming, audiences are, in theory, up for being scared, so "Sinister" is arriving at an opportune time.

This weekend will "Sinister" the chance to get out ahead of "Paranormal Activity 4," which lands next week. Summit has it in 2,525 theaters and will get a boost from 10 p.m. Thursday screenings in some markets.

"It's Facebook and Twitter activity has been very strong," Boxoffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap Thursday, comparing it to the similarly micro-budgeted "The Devil Inside," which pulled off a stunning $33 million bow for Paramount in January. "There's no doubt that it's connecting with its base," Contrino said.

The PG-rated "Here Comes the Boom" features James as former college wrestler Scott Voss, who has become a bored 42-year-old biology teacher. When budget cutbacks threaten to wipe out his school's music program, he tries to raise money to save it by becoming a mixed martial arts fighter.

James'  "Zookeeper" director Frank Coracci is back for this one. That film opened to $20 million last year and went on to make $80 million domestically, $170 million worldwide. Were "Boom" to perform along the lines of James' 2009 sleeper hit "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" -- bowed to $31 million and took in $146 million domestically -- it would shift the weekend's landscape.

Also read: 'Here Comes the Boom' Review: Kevin James Puts Up a Fight, but Lame Comedy Packs Little Punch

Salma Hayak and Henry Winkler co-star in "Here Comes the Boom."  It's on about 3,000 screens and the analysts have it in the mid-teen millions for the weekend; the studio sees it a little lower.

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh returns with "Seven Psychopaths" from CBS Films. It's his first movie since 2008's "In Bruges," for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

McDonagh writes and directs the action comedy which stars Colin Farrell as a struggling screenwriter who inadvertently becomes entangled in L.A.'s criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.

Also read: 'Seven Psychopaths' Review: It's a Throat-Slitting, Bloody, Lunatic Hoot

The critics love the Toronto Film Festival's audience prize winner; it has a 95 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  CBS Films is doing a slow rollout and with 1,480 locations, $6 million would be a strong start.

"Atlas Shrugged: Part II" will open in about 850 theaters. The second installment of the film based on Ayn Rand's novel picks up where the first film left off, but with a new cast that includes Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe and Esai Morales.

The story is set in a dystopian United States where John Galt leads innovators, from industrialists to artists, in a strike to reassert the importance of the free use of the mind and of free market capitalism.

Also read: '2016: Obama's America': What the Surprise Right-Wing Hit Says About the Election

The team behind the film, Either Or Productions and Atlas Distribution, has skipped traditional marketing and mounted a grassroots campaign targeting political groups and media sympathetic to the film's libertarian message. 

The first film was released last year and flopped, topping out at less than $5 million. This one, on 850 screens, isn't expected to do much better. An opening over $2 million would be a surprise.

On the specialty front, Millennium Entertainment is expanding "The Paperboy" into 49 theaters. The R-rated erotic thriller debuted last week, starring Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman, averaged $10,033 on 11 screens.

This will be a big week for "Perks of Being a Wallflower," which Summit is expanding into 725 locations. Last week the film, starring Emma Watson, averaged $6,901 per screen in 221 theaters

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