Led by European sequel "Taken 2," Friday's grosses shot up to $43 million for the top ten, up more than a third from last week and almost doubling a year ago. At a time when American studios are being driven by international grosses, it isn't surprising that domestic box office sometimes is pushed by non-British international productions.
The top three films seemed to push down the business for much of the rest of the field, successfully competing for targeted audiences. Most significantly, Sony's decision to leapfrog "Hotel Transylvania" ahead of Disney's Halloween-oriented 3-D "Frankenweenie" continues to pay off dividends.
1. Taken 2 (20th Century-Fox) - Metacritic score: 47
$18,600,000 in 3,661 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $5,080; Cumulative: $18,600,000
French-produced "Taken 2" will out-gross in its first weekend the total $45-million gross of French Oscar-winner "The Artist." Although not quite in record territory for an October opening, this gross looks like it will be the best #1 film since July, and around double of what "Taken" opened to in 2009 on its way to $145 million (a multiple of almost six times its opening, an unusually large increase). The sequel, from Luc Besson's production company (he created the first French action hit in the US with "The Fifth Element" in 1997), is in English and set mainly in Istanbul, but beyond its production roots, was primarily filmed by a French crew. Olivier Megaton took over for original director Pierre Morel. Megaton's previous credits include "Transporter 3" and "Columbiana," both of which this will have outgrossed by Monday.
But more than anything this elevates acclaimed actor Liam Neeson even deeper into Bruce Willis/Harrison Ford territory. At an age when it took several veteran action actors together to make a film ("Expendables 2") that opened to a lower gross, he can look forward to being in more demand than at any time of his career.
What comes next: The success of the second entry will inspire Fox to push hard to keep this series going. Like their "Die Hard" sequels (still going strong), they depend on a leap of faith that the hero keeps finding himself in life-threatening situations. But that should be no barrier.
2. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) Week 2 -Last Friday: #1; Last Weekend: #1
$6,500,000 (-40%) in 3,352 theaters (+3); PSA: $1,939; Cumulative: $56,159,000
Seemingly vulnerable to the opening of "Frankenweenie," another animated 3-D film, this easily is winning the battle, with a modest second Friday dropoff. As a kids' film, this should have a strong Saturday/Sunday bump to a gross in the mid $20s.
What comes next: Three more weekends until Halloween should guarantee the total gross far beyond $100 million.
3. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 2 - Last Friday: #6; Last Weekend: #6
$4,900,000 (+64) in 2,770 theaters (+2,435); PSA: $1,769; Cumulative: $11,746,000
A solid performance as this female-centered music comedy jumped into a normal wide run after its more limited full-week "preview" last week.
What comes next: The word of mouth this weekend will be critical in determining whether this turns into a long-run hit. The grosses so far suggest the unusual strategy of a more limited opening was at least a modest success.
4. Looper (Sony) Week 2 - Last Friday: #2; Last Weekend: #2
$3,500,000 (-48%) in 2,993 theaters (+1); PSA: $1,169; Cumulative: $31,601,000
Falling more like a normal action film than the critically acclaimed film that it is, Rian Johnson's thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis likely lost much of its action audience to "Taken 2."
What comes next: Already a success (its early international performance has been strong), this doesn't look like it will perform anything near what "District 9," another well-reviewed genre did on its way to a Best Picture nomination.
5. Frankenweenie (Buena Vista) - Metacritic score: 74
$3,268,000 in 3,005 theaters; PSA: $1,088; Cumulative: $3,268,000
Tim Burton's feature-length expansion of his early stop-action short film is falling short of hopes, which in turn were far below what "Hotel Transylvania" did last weekend. On a track to fall a bit short of what his most recent stop-action film "Corpse Bride" did its first wide-release three days ($19.1 million), this is the second straight Burton film (after "Dark Shadows") that could fall short of its production cost.
What comes next: At an estimated $40-million budget, this with international and other revenues could still break even. But this still looks like a disappointment.
6. End of Watch (Open Road) Week 3 - Last Friday: #3; Last Weekend: #3
$1,177,000 (-51%) in 2,370 theaters (-410); PSA: $497; Cumulative: $30,023,000
Another more adult-oriented action-based film that seems to have been hurt by "Taken 2." Still has performed well, but not having the legs that initially were helped for.
What comes next: This will fall a bit short of what newcomer Open Road's best film so far - "The Grey" - has done ($51 million).
7. Trouble With the Curve (Warner Brothers) Week 3 - Last Friday: #5; Last Weekend: #4