So far this weekend, the wealth is spread around several diverse films and grosses are down slightly from last Friday --which was bolstered by the huge operning of "Taken 2." By Sunday the order of the top films of the weekend should change. And the ultimate success of the most anticipated release -- Ben Affleck's "Argo" - -won't be really known until longer into its run.
Grosses are way up though from a year ago: $38 million for Friday to last year's $24 million for the top ten. After a dispiriting couple of months, the October revival surges on.
1. Sinister (Lionsgate) NEW - Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic score: 55
$7,450,000 in 2,527 theaters: PSA: $2,948,000; Cumulative: $2,948,000
With Thursday night shows pushing its gross, Lionsgate has yet another strong horror opener. While it will likely fall in rank for the full weekend (perhaps to third or even fourth), 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.
2. Taken 2 (20th Century-Fox) Week 2 - Last Friday: #1; Last Weekend: #1
$7,000,000 (-60%) in 3,706 theaters (+45): PSA: $1,889; Cumulative: $71,259,000
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 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 lwill be star Liam Neeson's call if the series is to continue.
3. Argo (Warner Brothers) NEW - Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic score: 86
$5,930,000 in 3,232 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $1,835; Cumulative: $5,930,000
With the Cinemascore indicating that initial audience reacted as strongly as critics (the best reviews for any wide-release film for the year so far), this gross is not a bad start, but indicates that strong word of mouth will have to sustain Ben Affleck's third film as a director. The based-on-fact Iranian hostage crisis drama so far seems to be only drawing older viewers, who can create a solid base, but this is going to need more crossover appeal to reach its potential.
Considered a leading Oscar contender (although perception of audience reaction can play a role in its chances), this gross falls short 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 $8 million its first day (ending up at $97 million). Affleck's "The Town" had an $8.3 million first day, getting to $92 million.
With a $44 million reported budget and likely sustained run (although this will not be clear until 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 for "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.