Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills in the film "Taken 2."
20th Century Fox
Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills in the film "Taken 2."

Story highlights

"Taken 2's" debut is the third-best ever in the month of October

"Hotel Transylvania" finished the weekend in second place

"Frankenweenie" didn't seem to click with audiences —  

Liam Neeson has had an indisputably amazing year.

Though the quality of the actor’s movies remains up for debate (We’re looking at you, Battleship. Well, you too, Wrath of the Titans. Oh gosh, The Grey as well. And, as much as I hate to say it, perhaps even The Dark Knight Rises… don’t stone me!), the fact that 60-year-old Neeson is at the peak of his career, recognized as an almost mythic Chuck Norris-esque figure and opening a new action tentpole every couple of months, is nothing short of remarkable.

And now Neeson has another chart-topper to add to his already impressive resume: Taken 2, which debuted to an astounding $50 million from 3,661 theaters this weekend, good for a sizzling $13,657 per theater average. Taken 2’s debut is the third-best ever in the month of October, behind 2011′s Paranormal Activity 3, which started with $52.6 million, and 2010′s Jackass 3D, which started with $50.4 million.

The revenge sequel also earned more than twice as much as the original Taken did in its opening weekend — that film surprised Hollywood when it bowed with $24.7 million in 2009, and it also served as the catalyst for Neeson’s career jumpstart. Thanks to great word-of-mouth, Taken chugged all the way to $145 million total.

Time will tell whether Taken 2 can match its predecessor’s gross, but that may prove challenging.

While the film did score a solid “B+” CinemaScore grade, reviews were even harsher this time around and much has been made of the fact that Taken 2’s storyline adheres so closely to the original. (Of course, this didn’t exactly crush The Hangover Part II.) Thanks to up-front excitement, Taken 2 will almost certainly fall hard in the weeks to come, but considering Fox spent just $42 million to make the film, that won’t matter. This is already a huge winner for everyone involved.

Hotel Transylvania finished the weekend in second place, falling by an excellent 38 percent to $26.3 million. Sony’s $85 million animated venture has earned $76 million in its first ten days — far ahead of Sony Pictures Animation’s most successful performer, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which had earned $60.5 million at the same point in its run. With Halloween still three weeks away — and competition like Frankenweenie apparently not a threat — the Adam Sandler-voiced kiddie flick will continue to hold well at the box office and glide right past the $100 million mark.

In third was Universal’s $17 million a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect, which earned a solid $14.7 million out of 2,770 theaters. Thanks to strong pre-release buzz — Pitch Perfect garnered an “A” CinemaScore grade and Universal opened the film a week early in 335 theaters last weekend– the singing competition flick hit a box office high note with $5.1 million. Though its per theater average understandably dropped from $15,371 to a still-strong $5,320 due to its expansion, Pitch Perfect is already a big success story. When the original trailer hit the net earlier this year, Pitch Perfect appeared to be an ill-conceived companion to marginally popular teen titles like Step Up or You Got Served. But thanks to a dose of Glee-ful vocals and strong reviews overall, the film no longer looks like a direct-to-DVD sibling of Bring It On 5: High-Five, We’re Alive! (We kid.) In fact, Pitch Perfect may just be a new Bring It On in its own right. The zeitgeisty film was cheap to make and is now well on its way to profitability. Plus, it seems tailor-made for home market success with young women (74 percent of Pitch Perfect’s opening weekend audience was female) and repeat-viewing. While Pitch Perfect may never earn as much as Taken 2 did in its first three days, it will end up being a well-liked success story for Universal.

Looper enjoyed a second weekend in fourth place, dropping by an encouraging 41 percent to $12.2 million. TriStar’s well-reviewed $35 million time-bending thriller, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, has now earned $40.3 million after 10 days, and it could climb as high as $65 million total. A nice example of original content clicking with audiences. (See, Hollywood? It is possible!)

Rounding out the Top 5 was Disney’s Tim Burton-directed Frankenweenie, the kooky, spooky tale which debuted with a rather disappointing $11.5 million. The $39 million film, about a boy trying to resurrect his deceased pooch, just didn’t click with audiences. There are a few factors at play here. For starters, domestic moviegoers traditionally don’t like stop-motion animation all that much. The Pirates! Band of Misfits proved that earlier this year, when it sailed away with just $31.1 million. Furthermore, it likely didn’t help that Frankenweenie was in black and white — kids are used to bright, candy-colored options like Madagascar or Toy Story. Frankenweenie didn’t fit that mold. On top of that, there’s been a glut of creepy-ish kiddie titles in the marketplace lately. Not only is the well-performing Hotel Transylvania cleaning up at the box office with its own brand of monstrous mayhem, Laika’s ParaNorman (which has earned $54.4 million so far) had a similar Frankensteinian sensibility. How many animated movies about undead characters do families really want to see in the course of two months?

The sad part for Disney is that critics loved the film. Frankenweenie earned wonderful reviews overall and a “B+” CinemaScore grade. Perhaps it can find its legs in the weeks to come.

1. Taken 2 – $50.0 million

2. Hotel Transylvania – $26.3 million

3. Pitch Perfect – $14.7 million

4. Looper – $12.2 million

5. Frankenweenie – $11.5 miilion

Check back next week for more box office coverage, and follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates!

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