Moviegoers were held captive by "Taken 2" at the box office this weekend, as the Liam Neeson sequel had a superb No. 1 debut.
The kidnapping action-thriller opened to a strong $50 million, according to an estimate from distributor Twentieth Century Fox. That's double what the first "Taken" launched with back in 2009, when its $24.7-million start surprised on the historically slow Super Bowl weekend.
While the Neeson flick met the highest of industry projections, the stop-motion animated "Frankenweenie" fell short of even its studio's modest hopes. The Walt Disney Studios 3-D film collected a lackluster $11.5 million during its first weekend in theaters, marking another disappointing debut for writer-director Tim Burton this year.
Meanwhile, after an excellent start in limited release last weekend, the a capella comedy "Pitch Perfect" expanded to theaters nationwide and brought in a respectable $14.7 million. The film has now sold $21.6 million worth of tickets in 10 days.
It was a good weekend for Hollywood, as weekend ticket sales were up about 46% compared with the same three-day period last year. This year's ticket sales are still up about 3% vs. 2012, while attendance has lifted 2% since last year.
While critics were lukewarm on "Taken 2," audiences enjoyed it, assigning the film an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That's also the same grade that "Frankenweenie" — which was beloved by reviewers — received from opening-weekend moviegoers.
Co-financed by Fox and French writer-producer Luc Besson's EuropaCorp for roughly $45 million, "Taken 2" follows Neeson's former CIA operative as he is kidnapped. In the first film, Neeson's character had to rescue his daughter when she was taken hostage.
The movie did brisk business this weekend largely because it appealed to a broad audience, appealing only slightly more to males than females (52% compared to 48%) and both young and old (56% were over the age of 25).
The robust opening for "Taken 2" further solidifies Neeson's draw as an action hero. After "Taken" grossed $226.8 million worldwide three years ago, the 60-year-old actor landed a handful of roles in other action flicks that performed well at the box office, including "Unknown" and "The Grey."
"Frankenweenie" struggled to lure moviegoers away from another animated film at the box office this weekend — "Hotel Transylvania." After topping the multiplex upon its debut last weekend, the 3-D monster film only saw its ticket sales drop only 38% to $26.3 million, raising its overall total to $76 million.
In May, Burton's expensive Johnny Depp vampire film "Dark Shadows" underperformed, grossing around $80 million domestically against a $150-million production budget. "Frankenweenie" is the filmmaker's third stop-motion release, following "A Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride" — neither of which were hits.
Disney spent $39 million to produce Burton's latest film, which was spawned from a 1984 short he made about a boy who revives his dead dog through a Frankenstein-esque science experiment. About half of those who saw “Frankenweenie” this weekend opted to shell out a few extra bucks for 3-D tickets — a higher-than-average percentage for an animated family film. (Last weekend, for example, 35% of the business for “Hotel Transylvania” came from 3-D receipts.) The movie appealed equally to men and women, and 53% of the crowd was under the age of 25.
After receiving an A CinemaScore upon its debut last weekend, "Pitch Perfect" benefited from strong word-of-mouth as it expanded into 2,770 theaters. The film about a competitive college singing group should be a financial winner for Universal Pictures, which co-financed the movie for $17 million with Gold Circle Films. It's unclear if the movie will perform well overseas, however, as it launched in New Zealand this weekend and came in No. 4 at the local box office.
[Updated 11:39 a.m. Oct. 7: Overseas, "Taken 2" got off to a good start as well. Playing in 50 foreign markets, the movie grossed $55 million this weekend. The movie performed best in the United Kingdom, where it raked in $12.1 million, but it also did well in Besson's native France. The picture has yet to debut in nine international countries, including Germany and Italy.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. "Taken 2" (Fox/EuropaCorp): Opened with $50 million. $55 million overseas in 50 foreign markets. International total: $67 million.
2. "Hotel Transylvania" (Sony): $26.3 million on its second weekend, down 38%. Domestic total: $76 million. $13.1 million overseas in 22 foreign markets. International total: $29.3 million.
3. "Pitch Perfect" (Universal/Gold Circle): $14.7 million upon its nationwide expansion. Domestic total: $21.6 million. $480,000 overseas in one foreign market.
4. "Looper" (Sony/Endgame/FilmDistrict): $12.2 million on its second weekend, down 41%. Domestic total: $40.3 million.
5. "Frankenweenie" (Disney): Opened with $11.5 million.
6. "End of Watch" (Open Road/Emmett/Furla/Exclusive): $4 million on its third weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $32.8 million.
7. "Trouble With the Curve" (Warner Bros.): $3.9 million on its third weekend, down 47%. Domestic total: $29.7 million.
8. "House at the End of the Street" (Relativity/FilmNation/A Bigger Boat): $3.7 million on its third weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $27.5 million.
9. "The Master" (Weinstein Co.): $1.8 million on its fourth weekend, down 31%. Domestic total: $12.3 million.
10. "Finding Nemo 3D" (Disney): $1.6 million on its fourth weekend, down 61%. Domestic total: $39 million. $600,000 overseas in 21 foreign markets. International total: $11.6 million.]
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun