So far this weekend, the wealth is spread around several diverse films and grosses are down slightly from last weekend --which was bolstered by the huge opening of "Taken 2." After leading on Friday, "Sinister" fell to third. The ultimate success of the weekend's most anticipated release -- Ben Affleck's "Argo" - -won't be known until longer into its run, but its strong start indicates a chance to become a breakout hit.
Grosses are way up from a year ago: $118 million for weekend to last year's $73 million for the top ten. Three films grossed over $18 million for the first time in two months. After a dispiriting couple of months, the October revival surges on.
1. Taken 2 (20th Century-Fox) Week 2 - Last Weekend: #1
$22,500,000 (-46) in 3,706 theaters (+45): PSA (per screen average): $6,071; Cumulative: $86,759,000
Welcome to the fall Oscar season! Last week, this French film outgrossed in one weekend what last year's French best picture did during its entire release. This weekend, "Taken 2"'s second outing is beating the opening of one of the leading candidates for this year.
Although still grossing well, the falloff indicates that this sequel will likely fall just short of the $145 million the first entry grossed in the US/Canada. However, with a budget of only $45 million, and most of the world as well as additional grosses yet to come, this already will be one of the most profitable films on Fox' slate this year (along with producer Luc Besson).
What comes next: It will be star Liam Neeson's call if the series is to continue.
2. Argo (Warner Brothers) NEW - Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic score: 86
$20,120,000 in 3,232 theaters; PSA: $6,225; Cumulative: $5,930,000
A big Saturday jump erased initial minor concerns about Friday's gross. With the Cinemascore indicating that audiences reacted as strongly as critics (the best reviews for any wide-release film for the year so far), this indicates that strong word of mouth is already lifting Ben Affleck's third film as a director. The based-on-fact Iranian hostage crisis drama so far seems to be drawing mainly older viewers, who can create a solid base, and then hope for a wider audience to make it even bigger.
Considered a leading Oscar contender, this gross is in the range of two comparable films, both of which had initial wider appeal. "The Social Network," with slightly better reviews, similar festival acclaim and high awards expectations, opened to a $22.4 million first weekend (ending up at $97 million). Affleck's "The Town" had a $23.8 million opening, getting to $92 million, both #1.
With a $44-million reported budget and likely sustained run (this will be clearer next weekend), this looks like a return to form (assuming solid international results) for Oscar-winning producer Graham King ("The Departed"), who also partnered with Affleck on "The Town." His recent travails have been well documented -- his last four films were the expensive and underperforming "Hugo" and "Dark Shadows" as well as flops "The Rum Diary" and "The Land of Milk and Honey," though he also had "Rango" last year. Whatever happens, this film enhances the resumes of all its participants.
What comes next: The next three weeks (with Halloween dominating release patterns) give this a clear field to reach upscale and other audiences before other more adult-oriented studio films come along. The gross total, not the ranking, is the important thing here -- and even more how it holds up in upcoming weeks.
3. Sinister (Lionsgate) NEW - Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic score: 55
$18,250,000 in 2,527 theaters: PSA: $7,222,000; Cumulative: $18,250,000
With Thursday night shows pushing its gross, Lionsgate has yet another strong horror opener. While it fell in rank for the full weekend, this already looks like a good investment for Lionsgate, which releases several horror films every year (this makes four for 2012). This was an acquisition made by partner Summit last year and just now, in prime pre-Halloween playtime, capitalized on a week with no other new scary movies. (It premiered in March at SXSW.)
This found-footage crime investigation film marks the first horror entry in Ethan Hawke's almost quarter-century career. Hawke tends to favor independent, off-beat, sometimes foreign films. His last full-weekend #1 film was "Training Day" in 2001.
For director Scott Derrickson, this is a return to the genre that first got him attention with the sleeper hit "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." He then made Fox's "The Day the Earth Stood Still" which managed a $233-million gross worldwide, then returned to his horror roots for this indie. Producer Jason Blum comes from the "Paranormal Activity" series, which rebooted the found-footage movement that remains a staple in the genre.
What comes next: With "Paranormal 4" and "Silent Hill Revelation" still to come before Halloween, this will fade quickly.