Liam Neeson stars in "Taken 2," which ruled the box office for… (Twentieth Century Fox )
Liam Neeson wouldn't let anyone take No. 1 from him at the box office this weekend.
For the second consecutive weekend, the 60-year-old action star's "Taken 2" ruled the multiplex. The kidnapping flick grossed an additional $22.5 million, raising its overall total to a robust $86.8 million, according to an estimate from distributor Twentieth Century Fox. That's already 62% more than the original "Taken" had collected after two weeks in theaters back in 2009.
"Taken 2" beat out five new films that debuted nationwide this weekend, though Ben Affleck's "Argo" was a close runner-up. The hostage thriller, which Affleck directed and stars in, opened with a respectable $20.1 million. Meanwhile, the low-budget horror film "Sinister" -- made for a fraction of what "Argo" cost -- took in a nice $18.3 million during its first weekend in theaters. (It should be noted, however, that "Sinister" actually opened at 10 p.m. on Thursday in some cities, a few hours before the rest of the weekend's films.)
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Kevin James didn't have as much luck at the box office, as his new mixed martial arts comedy "Here Comes the Boom" started off with a ho-hum $12 million. The well-reviewed "Seven Psychopaths" also did lackluster opening weekend business, launching with $4.3 million -- though it played in roughly 1,500 fewer cinemas than "Boom." The Ayn Rand drama "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," which also screened in about 1,000 locations, grossed an even less impressive $1.7 million.
Those moviegoers who saw "Argo" this weekend loved it, assigning it a rare A+ grade, according to market research firm CinemaScore. After earning excellent critical reviews, pundits are saying the film has a shot at best picture at next year's Academy Awards -- meaning the movie has a chance at becoming one of the few Oscar nominees that is also a commercial success.
The movie, based on the true story of a CIA agent who got six U.S. State Department employees out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, appealed heavily to an older audience this weekend. Roughly 74% of the film's crowd was over the age of 35, while 54% was female.
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The film was co-financed by distributor Warner Bros. and producer Graham King's GK Films for about $44 million.
"Argo" debuted with slightly lower opening weekend figures than Affleck's last directorial effort, "The Town." That film started off with $23.8 million and ultimately sold $92.2 million domestically in 2010. While the Boston crime drama was also beloved by critics, it received a B+ CinemaScore, indicating "Argo" may ultimately play better if its strong word of mouth pays off.
"Sinister" got a dismal C+ CinemaScore from audiences this weekend, though scary movies often score poorly with opening weekend crowds. The film stars Ethan Hawke as a crime writer who uncovers an eerie box of home movies.
The movie was made for only $3 million, and Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights last year. The film is from the producers of "Insidious" -- another picture made for under $5 million that did solid business at the box office.
The opening of "Here Comes the Boom" is a disappointment for James, who has yet to replicate the success he had as a leading man with 2009's hit "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." Sony Pictures, which financed the film for about $42 million, has been trying to build the 47-year-old actor into a comedic draw at the box office a la its golden boy Adam Sandler.
At least those who saw the PG-rated "Boom" this weekend -- a 45% family crowd -- liked it, assigning it an average grade of A. The movie stars James as a teacher whose school encounters financial issues, so he takes up MMA fighting to help raise money for his employer.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys indicated "Seven Psychopaths" would open with about $6 million, but the film couldn't even meet those modest expectations. The movie, about a motley crew that steals a Shih Tzu, has earned fantastic reviews and features an ensemble cast that includes Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Tom Waits.
Cofinanced by distributor CBS Films with FilmFour and BFI for $13.5 million, "Seven Psychopaths" was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. The filmmaker's "In Bruges," which also starred Farrell and earned an Oscar nod for its screenplay, also struggled at the box office and never crossed the $10-million mark.