"Taken 2" was the biggest reason the overall box office was up more than 40 percent over the same weekend last year, the second week in a row it's been in positive territory. "Taken 2" scored overseas as well, adding $55 million from 50 overseas markets.
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The strong showing by Fox's action sequel points up the disconnect between the critics, who generally ripped the film, and audiences, who made it the best October PG13-rated opening ever. The best of all-time is "Paranormal 3," which opened to $52.5 million last year, and "Jackass 3D" did $50.3 million in 2010. Those were both R-rated.
"Taken 2" had only a 20 percent "fresh" rating on review tracking site Rotten Tomatoes, with just 25 of 128 notices positive. That didn't deter weekend audiences -- surprisingly broad based at 52 percent male and 56 percent over 25 years of age -- who gave it a "B+" CinemaScore.
Chris Aronson, Fox's president of distribution, said if it was one or the other, he was glad to have the audiences.
"When do the critics and audiences align?" he told TheWrap Sunday. "Critics don't write for the masses, and definitely not when it comes to broad, commercial entertainment."
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Just as negative reviews don't necessarily translate to week box office, positive notices don't guarantee success.
Disney and Tim Burton's debuting "Frankenweenie" received many more positive reviews -- 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes -- than "Hotel Transylvania." Both are about family films about monsters that are more fun than scary, but Burton's black-and-white stop-action animated film was no match for Sony's traditionally animated "Hotel" at the box office.
"Hotel Transylvania," last week's No. 1 film, fell off just 36 percent from its opening week and finished second with an impressive $27.1 million from 3,552 theaters. That's a $7,846 per-screen average and ups its domestic gross to $76 million.
"Frankenweenie," in 3,005 theaters with 2,640 3D screens, finished fifth with $11.5 million, well below pre-release projections which were in the high-teen millions.
The success of "Taken 2" further cements the 60-year-old Neeson's newfound status as a bankable action hero, which took off with the success of the original "Taken," a surprise hit that made $224 million worldwide in 2008.
"This character that Liam has created really resonates with audiences," Aronson said. "There is an accessibility and vulnerability that is very appealing."
In "Taken 2," Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the former CIA agent and overprotective dad who rescued his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from the clutches of Albanian baddies in the first film. Unaware that crime boss Murad (Rade Serbedzija) has sworn revenge on Bryan for gunning down Murad's son in the first movie, Bryan invites Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) to join him on a trip to Istanbul.
Universal's early limited release gambit with its comedy musical "Pitch Perfect" paid off with a $14.7 million third-place finish from 2,770 screens. The studio debuted the film, which skewed very much toward social media-savvy young women, on 355 screens last weekend.
TriStar and Film District's sci-fi thriller "Looper," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce
Willis, finished fourth in its second week with $11.8 million from 2,995
The weekend's top 10 flicks:
"Taken 2," $50.4M
"Hotel Transylvania," $27.1M
"Pitch Perfect," $14.7M
"End of Watch," $4M
"Trouble With the Curve," $3.8M
"House at the End of the Street," $3.6M
"The Master," $1.8M
"Finding Nemo," $1.5M