Box Office: Liam Neeson finds moviegoers as ‘Taken 2’ grosses $18.6 million Friday

A little over three years ago, the industry and 20th Century Fox were shocked when “Taken,” an under the radar thriller starring Liam Neeson, became something of a surprising blockbuster.  The Luc Besson produced B-movie opened to $24.7 million in Jan. 2009 and wound up with a stunning $145 million domestically. Original director Pierre Morel has been replaced by Olivier Megaton (“Colombiana”) for the inevitable sequel, but audiences don’t seem to mind.  “Taken 2” debuted Friday to a huge $18.6 million, the biggest opening day gross since “The Dark Knight Rises” made $75 million on July 20. Obviously, the action flick won’t hit those astronomical heights.  Instead, look for “Taken 2” to end up with between $44-48 million for the three-day which isn’t too shabby.

Dropping to second place was last week’s champ “Hotel Transylvania.”  The Sony Animation 3D hit made another $6.5 million for a superb $56.1 million in just 8 days.  The family-friendly Adam Sandler-voiced comedy should end up with over $75 million in the bank by Sunday.

Jumping to 2,770 theaters in third was Universal Pictures’ “Pitch Perfect.”  The Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson comedy had a fantastic debut last week making $5.1 million on just 335 screens for an amazing $15,371 per screen.  Unfortunately, the expansion Friday wasn’t as potent. “Perfect” grossed just $4.9 million for what could be a $12-14 million weekend. Universal will hope that word of mouth will continue to fuel interest, but it’s hard to see “Perfect” turning into the sleeper hit many thought it might be.  

“Looper” dropped to fourth place with another $3.5 million and $31.6 million to date.  The acclaimed Rian Johnson Sci-Fi thriller could end up close to $40 million by EOD Sunday with an eventual, satisfying gross of $60 million.

Making a disappointing debut in the fifth slot is Walt Disney Studio’s “Frankenweenie.” The Tim Burton-directed stop-motion animated film has earned strong reviews, but Disney clearly miscalculated on just how big the competing “Hotel Transylvania” would be.  Fighting for the same demo, “Frankenweenie” found just $3.2million Friday for what may end up being a $12-14 million weekend, at best. That’s significant less than the $19.1 million “The Corpse Bride” grossed in its wide expansion in 2005 and it may come in under the $14 million “ParaNorman” underachieved with in August. The latter has been able to find $54 million domestically though, so Disney and Burton will hope more families will take the time to discover the flick in the weeks to come.

Look for complete weekend estimates Sunday on HitFix.