'Taken 2' manhandling box office on way to $48M weekend

Oct 06 (TheWrap.com) - Liam Neeson and 'Taken 2" are looking at a $48 million weekend after blasting past their box office rivals Friday and rolling to a first-day total of $18.6 million.

The gangbusters debut fo r Fox's PG13-rated action sequel marks the second consecutive week a movie has broken out and lifted the box office into positive territory. If the weekend stays on pace, it will finish more than 30 percent ahead of last year, when "Real Steel" lead the way with a $27 million debut.

"Taken 2" is proving impervious to bad reviews, easily topping the $25 million opening weekend of the original film. First-day audiences at 3,661 locations -- it averaged $5,020 per-screen -- gave it a "B+" CinemaScore. The biggest October opening on record is the $52.6 million rung up by "Paranormal Activity 3" last year.

Last week's No. 1 movie, Sony's "Hotel Transylvania," held impressively. With $6.5 million from 3,352 theaters Friday, it's on track to finish second with around $25 million. It looks like families opted for "Hotel Transylvania" at the expense of Disney's "Frankenweenie."

Tim Burton's black-and-white stop-action animated movie, like "Hotel" a horror-comedy targeting kids, brought in around $3.2 million and is on pace for a disappointing $12 million over the three days. "ParaNorman," the third similarly themed family film in the market, debuted with $14 million last month.

Audiences at 3,005 screens, 2,640 of those 3D, gave it a "B+.

Universal's comedy musical "Pitch Perfect" took in $4.8 million Friday and is looking at $14 million for its first weekend in wide release. That's at the high end of expectations for the movie, which expanded to 2,770 locations after bowing strongly in a 355-screen limited run last week.

TriStar and Film District's sci-fi thriller "Looper," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willlis, took in $3.5 million from 2,993 locations Friday. It's on pace to finish with around $11 million in its second week.

Three films in their third week -- Warner Bros.' "Trouble With the Curve," Open Road's "End of Watch" and Relativity's "House at the End of the Street" -- are on pace to finish with between $3.7 million and $4 million for the three days.Â

Earlier ...

Taken 2' won't sneak up on the box office the way "Taken" did when it became a surprise global smash and made Liam Neeson an action hero in 2008.

But Fox's sequel will blow away the box office competition this weekend, say industry analysts, who expect it to debut at between $35 million and $40 million. Last week's No. 1 film, Sony's "Hotel Transylvania," is pegged for second with about $24 million.

The weekend's two other wide openers, Disney's "Frankenweenie" and Universal's "Pitch Perfect," are projected by analysts to take in $18 million and $15 million respectively. The latter film's numbers are less solid since this is an expansion rather than an opening, making tracking trickier. The sci-fi thriller  "Looper," last week's No. 2, is also expected to make the leader board.

Those five films' demographic targets are varied -- with the exception of similarly themed family films "Frankenweenie" and "Hotel Transylvania -- and broad enough that all of them could do well. If they come near those numbers it will add up to another positive weekend for the overall box office, which last week broke a month-long losing streak.

In "Taken 2," Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the former CIA agent and overprotective dad who rescued his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from the clutches of Albanian baddies in the first film. Unaware that crime boss Murad (Rade Serbedzija) has sworn revenge on Bryan for gunning down Murad's son in the first movie, Bryan invites Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) to join him on a trip to Istanbul. And then the fun begins.

Olivier Megaton ("Columbiana") steps in a director, replacing Pierre Morel, but screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are back.

The original debuted to roughly $25 million, so this sequel should beat the bow of that well-reviewed movie. However, the critics have been borderline cruel to "Taken 2." Just 46 percent of the reviews on Movie Review Intelligence have been positive, even lower on Rotten Tomatoes.

No one is expecting "Taken 2" to run up numbers like the original film, which took in $224 million worldwide, but it should have a strong opening. With 2010's "Clash of the Titans" and last year's "The Grey," Neeson has proven a bankable action star (we won't hold "The A Team" and "Battleship" against him).

"He's definitely in line for an 'Expendables' sequel," Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap.
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