Liam Neeson's 'Taken 2' topped the box office for a second straight weekend.
(Photo: Magali Bragard, 20th Century Fox)
by Scott Bowles, USA TODAY
Ben Affleck learned this weekend that it isn't easy to take something from Liam Neeson.
Affleck's critically lauded political thriller Argo couldn't quite overtake Neeson's Taken 2, which held the box office crown for the second straight weekend.
Taken 2 earned $22.5 million, box office tracker Hollywood.com says. That brought the sequel's haul to a healthy $86.8 million, enough to make another installment nearly certain. (Producer Luc Besson said last week that he began plotting a third film after Taken 2's $50 million debut.)
Argo, though, was no slouch. The Iran hostage drama took in $20.1 million, good for second place and impressive for an adult drama with awards hope.
The film, which Affleck starred in and directed, earned stellar reviews from critics and fans. The movie survey site Rottentomatoes.com says 94% of critics gave the movie a thumbs-up, the same approval rating moviegoers gave it.
The plaudits should help give the film legs through the critical run through the end of the year - and Oscar campaigning.
Kim Hollis of Boxofficeprophets.com calls the debut "a good start for awards season, particularly since The Master seemed to fall off a cliff once it got wider release." The Scientology-themed drama opened to strong reviews in limited release last month, but has since sputtered to $14 million.
The "found footage" horror film Sinister took third with $18.3 million, better than expected. Analysts projected $13 million for the Ethan Hawke picture.
The film received strong reviews from critics and fans: About 63% of reviewers recommended it, and 72% of moviegoers liked it, Rottentomatoes says.
Hollis says Sinister nabbed valuable real estate two weekends before Halloween and one weekend before a "found footage" titan hits screens. Sinister took "advantage of an early October release date so that it can capture (the horror) audience all to itself before Paranormal Activity 4 hits theaters" on Friday.
The cartoon Hotel Transylvania was fourth with $17.3 million, which lifted its cumulative gross to a strong $102.2 million.
The Kevin James mixed martial arts comedy Here Comes the Boom rounded out the top 5 with $12 million, meeting the low end of expectations.
Among other notable newcomers, the crime flick Seven Psychopaths did $4.3 million and ninth place, well below its $7 million expectations.
And Atlas Shrugged: Part II mustered barely a yawn from audiences, opening to $1.7 million and 12th place.
Final figures are expected Monday.
The strong weekend overall helped keep ticket sales 4% ahead of last year's pace, according to Hollywood.com.