Led by European sequel "Taken 2," the weekend's grosses shot up to $129 million for the top ten, up $26 million from last week and $59 million from a year ago. At a time when American studios are being driven by international grosses, it's no surprise when the domestic box office is pushed by non-Brit 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) - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 47
$50,000,000 in 3,661 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $13,657; Cumulative: $50,000,000
French-produced "Taken 2" will out-gross in its first weekend the total $45-million total US/Canada take of French Oscar-winner "The Artist." Although not quite in record territory for an October opening, this gross is the best #1 film since July, and double the 2009 opening of "Taken" 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 in 1997, "The Fifth Element"), 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 outgross 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. (Hopefully he'll choose well and not pick by pay check.)
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 Weekend: #1
$26,300,000 (-38%) in 3,352 theaters (+3); PSA: $7,846; Cumulative: $76,000,000
Seemingly vulnerable to the opening of "Frankenweenie," another animated 3-D film, "Hotel Transylvania" easily won that battle, with a modest dropoff. Along with "Taken 2," this family film fueled a box-office turnaround after nearly three months of worries.
What comes next: Three more weekends until Halloween should guarantee the total gross far beyond $100 million.
3. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 2 - Last Weekend: #6
$14,700,000 (+153%) in 2,770 theaters (+2,435); PSA: $5,320; Cumulative: $21,600,000
A terrific performance as this female-centered music comedy jumped into a normal wide run after its more limited full-week "preview" last week. With a $17-million budget and targeted marketing, this is already turning into a solid success.
What comes next: The grosses so far suggest the unusual strategy of a more limited opening for word of mouth worked, with other distributors likely to consider it for appropriate films.
4. Looper (Sony) Week 2 - Last Weekend: #2
$12,200,000 (-41%) in 2,993 theaters (+1); PSA: $4,076; Cumulative: $40,300,000
Falling more like a normal action film than one that is so critically acclaimed, 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 film, did on its way to a Best Picture nomination.
5. Frankenweenie (Buena Vista) - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 74
$11,500,000 in 3,005 theaters; PSA: $3,827; Cumulative: $11,500,000
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 far short of his most recent stop-action film "Corpse Bride"'s first three days in wide release ($19.1 million), "Frankenweenie" 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, twith international and other revenues this could still break even. But it's still a disappointment.
6. End of Watch (Open Road) Week 3 - Last Weekend: #3
$4,000,000 (-49%) in 2,370 theaters (-410); PSA: $1,687; Cumulative: $32,846,000
Another more adult-oriented action-based film was hurt by "Taken 2." While it has performed well, it's not showing the legs that iit promised initially.
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).