Box office: you just got “Taken“! Despite reviews outlining diminishing returns, to say the least, audiences were pumped for a rendezvous with Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills, who powered the first “Taken” to a $227 million global gross. The opening for "Taken 2," is the third-largest October bow in history, but the best showing by a PG-13 movie of all time (the best overall October debut still belongs to “Paranormal Activity 3”). Even more, it grabbed just as much cash abroad with the cheapie sequel snaring $117 million overseas.
That first "Taken," while a high priority for Fox, was considered a bit of a dubious release. Most doubted its breakout potential once it was slotted for theaters during Super Bowl weekend, a good year after opening overseas to steady but unspectacular grosses. However, “Taken” kept taking, as the film carried serious legs through hefty word-of-mouth, capitalizing on the mixture of red-meat action and a dignified leading actor. If “Taken 2” performs as well as early audience reaction suggests, it might simply equal the grosses of the first film. But if the fans are truly excited by the latest picture -- a listless romp through Istanbul that recycles the popular bits from the first film -- Fox might have a real franchise on their hands.
What’s curious is if Liam Neeson goes along for the ride. Neeson hasn’t been shy about this Man Of Action phase in his career, though he’s already spoken out about not doing a third “Taken.” But these grosses, and the shortage of both cheap action franchises and legit action stars, could force Fox’s hand to offer Neeson beyond whatever his asking price might be. This is his second over-performer this year following “The Grey,” and he's likely to repeat this kind of showing with the forthcoming “Non-Stop," which is essentially "Taken" but on an airplane. This is a guy who has never been shy about genre pictures, and if the price is right, a third go-round as Bryan Mills might be a better alternative than suiting up for “The Expendables 3.”
Last week’s champ “Hotel Transylvania” fell off a bit, though its performance was in line with CG-animated kids pictures. More importantly, the film still has a nice cushion before Halloween, so expect grosses to stabilize, and for 'Transylvania' to be a massive winner for Sony. Right behind the film was the wide expansion of “Pitch Perfect,” which brought in strong numbers after a muscular limited opening last weekend. Word of mouth will be crucial for weekend number three, potentially allowing “Pitch Perfect” to graduate from solid performer to breakout hit.
But it was an absolutely dismal showing this weekend for “Frankenweenie,” which Disney figured was the big Halloween kid picture this season. Unfortunately, “Hotel Transylvania” stretched that particular demographic thin (parents willing to take their children to a kids’ picture that, superficially, features horror elements). Not to mention that "Finding Nemo 3D" is also still kicking around. The black-and-white stop-motion likely didn’t help matters either -- “Frankenweenie” was based on a short early in Tim Burton’s career that now serves as sort of a boutique item in his filmography. Stretching that out to a ninety-minute crowd-pleaser seemed unlikely to yield commercial results, though the expectation was that the folks at Disney would be able to market the picture differently. The good news is the picture might still be around by Halloween. The bad news is this opening doesn’t even match that of this summer’s similar (and underperforming) “ParaNorman,” and that effort didn’t have to compete with “Hotel Transylvania.” After the boondoggle that was this summer’s “Dark Shadows,” Burton’s been behind two big-money losers in the last year. Is it optimistic to hope this drives him to make another small-budget “Ed Wood”-type picture? Or did the futterwacking in “Alice In Wonderland” spell death for the creative side of Burton?
Even with the young male demographic flooding theaters for “Taken 2,” “Looper” still held up quite well. The picture should end up a solid grosser around $70-$80 million, a big victory for all involved. What will be interesting to see is how the film takes off internationally, given that it’s one of many recent Hollywood films specifically geared towards the international market in very specific ways. Given the major worldwide profile of Bruce Willis, similar results are expected in other regions, suggesting this will be a hit that scored stateside, but blows the doors off globally.
The top five, all in double figures, showed that Hollywood has slightly recovered from a pallid September swoon. Outside of those films, however, the week’s other performers look to be wrapping up their runs. “End Of Watch” didn’t show breakout potential beyond that first weekend, though it’s making a play for a $40 million plus gross, one that will likely be complimented nicely by a heavy DVD life given the easy-to-market subject matter. “House At The End Of The Street” is fulfilling its cheap genre obligations as a middling performer, while “Trouble With The Curve” will settle for a modest theatrical life, well below Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.” If Eastwood decides to act once more, it doesn’t look like it will be because of high demand.
“The Master” will benefit from the aggressiveness of The Weinstein Company, as the film actually showed a minor increase in screen count despite lowering grosses. The company also kept Oscar favorite “The Artist” in circulation for months despite its piddling per-screen averages, spending a lot to keep the film in front of eyeballs to benefit from an awards-season bump. “The Master” may have gone too aggressive too early, so the same crossover potential is unlikely, but this is its third week in the top ten, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the film hang around for one more week before it leaves some of the bigger multiplexes. Showing slightly more breakout potential is “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower,” which may crack the top ten after three weeks of release despite being on only 221 screens, carrying a solid $6.5k per-screen average.
1. Taken Too! (Fox) - $50 million
2. Animated Opera Man (Sony) - $26.3 million ($76 mil.)
3. Some Singing Thing For Girls, Whatever (Universal) - $14.7 million ($21.6 mil.)
4. Fruit Looper (Sony) - $12.2 million ($40.3 mil.)
5. Frankenstein: For Kids! (Disney) - $11.5 million
6. Cops (Open Road) - $4 million ($32.8 mil.)
7. Watching Dirty Harry Watch Baseball (Warner Bros.) - $3.8 million ($29.7 mil.)
8. House Party At The End Of The Street (Relativity) - $3.6 million ($27.5 mil.)
9. Lancaster Dodd Explains The Split Saber 3D (The Weinstein Company) - $1.8 million ($12.3 mil.)
10. It's Called "Heroes" By David Bowie, Guys (Lionsgate) - $1.5 million ($3.2 mil.)