Box Office Preview: Liam Neeson Takes On All Contenders

Things picked up really nicely at the box office last weekend, which should pave the way for a great October opening as Liam Neeson returns as highly-skilled special agent Bryan Mills in Taken 2 (20th Century Fox), once again produced and co-written by Luc Besson and co-starring Maggie Grace and Famke Jannsen.

The original Taken was a bit of an anomaly because it didn’t get released in the States until January 2009, nearly a year after it first played in France in early 2008. By then, the violent revenge thriller was already available on import DVD and inevitably as a bootleg on the internet, and yet, the movie–which was toned down for a PG-13–still opened with $24.7 million and grossed $144 million, making it a huge hit for Besson and 20th Century Fox, as well as elevating Neeson to a new status as a bonafide action star. Neeson followed it by playing Zeus in Clash of the Titans and its sequel, as well as headlining Unknown and two movies for director Joe Carnahan, The A-Team and The Grey, all three movies opening in the $20 to 25 million range. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, bear in mind that Neeson’s 2002 thriller K-19: The Widowmaker only opened with $12 million ten years ago, and this was teaming him with Harrison Ford and The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow!

Besides Neeson’s higher Q-rating since the release of the original Taken, the best news for the sequel is that it hasn’t already been released in other countries, something that almost always leads to piracy and bootlegs taking away from opening business—not that it hurt the original movie. The early October release may be an odd choice for 20th Century Fox, since it’s harder to get people into theaters, although in recent years, we’ve seen big hits like the two “Paranormal Activity” sequels and Jackass 3D, so it’s not impossible for Taken 2 to follow suit. Either way, there’s a lot of demand to see Neeson back in this role kicking ass again which should drive the opening weekend to somewhere just over $45 million with enough interest that it should end up grossing around $120 million by the time it leaves theaters even if it falls short of the original movie’s gross.

Video Interview with Liam Neeson

Review (Held Until Thursday)

Tim Burton releases his third movie of the year–including Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which he produced–returning to his roots with the stop-motion animated Frankenweenie (Walt Disney Pictures), based loosely on a live action short film he made for Disney back in 1984. Stop motion animation has been quite prominent in recent years, even if the movies generally haven’t done the kind of business of the computer-animated movies that have taken over. Much of the history of their success can be traced back to Burton’s involvement with 1993′s The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick, which grossed $50 million in its initial release but since then has added $25 million as Disney gave it subsequent 3D rereleases in October from 2006 to 2009. Burton’s stop motion follow-up The Corpse Bride opened in September 2005 to $19.1 million before grossing $53 million, and that was featuring the voice of Johnny Depp who had just had a significant hit with Burton over the summer with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other stop-motion animated films such as Coraline and Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit have generally opened in the high teens, although the recent The Pirates! Band of Misfits topped out at $31 million.

Frankenweenie is coming out on the tail end of a trilogy of monster-related animated comedies, the most recent one being Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania, which opened huge this past weekend with $43 million, following LAIKA’s stop-motion animated ParaNorman, which opened in mid-August with $14 million and is making its way to match the $53 million gross of Burton’s The Corpse Bride. While the latter is already almost out of theaters, the former is the bigger problem since having two horror-related animated comedies in theaters at the same time just forces audiences to make a choice and Hotel Transyvania opened so big, even setting records, it will be hard to ignore in its second weekend.

Without Depp or another strong voice actor, Frankenweenie may be a tougher sell, especially due to the disappointment some have had with Burton’s other releases this year, but having the Disney marketing tank behind it should help attract many of Burton’s 20-to-40-something fans, as well as their kids, which makes Frankenweenie good for between $17 and 19 million this weekend—not enough to surpass Hotel Transylvania in its second weekend. It should still be able to make its way to $50 million as it gets closer to Halloween and families look for other movies to see.

Last weekend, Universal Pictures opened the a capella comedy Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson (from their 2011 hit Bridesmaids), into just 335 theatres, but the popularity of a capella thanks to shows like “Glee” drove millions of young girls and women to see it, allowing it top open with just over $5 million to take sixth place. This weekend, it expands nationwide into over 2,800 theaters and that wide release should be driven by the great job Universal has done selling the movie and the positive word-of-mouth from its limited release as the movie’s rare A+ CinemaScore among the target audience of women under 25 can attest. That audience is the most likely to tell their friends they like something and go back for repeat viewings, although the movie’s business is likely to be diluted slightly in the areas where it played last weekend. Still, we think it should be good for another $12 to 14 million this weekend and if word-of-mouth continues to be that good, we could see this making $60 million because there’s very little female-driven movies coming out until The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. (Which coincidentally enough, is what we look at in this week’s Long Distance Box Office.)

This weekend last year saw Hugh Jackman taking on robots in Shawn Levy’s Real Steel (DreamWorks), which opened in first place with roughly $27 million, which wasn’t great but also wasn’t terrible for early October. George Clooney got political with The Ides of March (Sony), co-starring Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, which took second place with $10.5 million. The Top 10 grossed $80 million but since Taken 2 is likely to do better than both those movies put together, this weekend should once again be up.

This Week’s Updated Predictions -

UPDATE: While Taken 2 is opening in more theaters than we initially thought, the mostly negative reviews may keep some people away until they hear from friends it’s worth seeing, which means we think it won’t top $50 million this weekend.

1. Taken 2 (20th Century Fox) – $48.5 million N/A (up 2 million)

2. Hotel Transylvania (Sony Pictures) – $24.3 million -43% (down .7 million)

3. Frankenweenie (Walt Disney) – $17.8 million N/A (up .3 million)

4. Pitch Perfect (Universal) – $12.8 million +140% (up .3 million)

5. Looper (FilmDistrict) – $11.6 million -45%

6. Trouble with the Curve (Warner Bros.) – $4.4 million -40% (down .2 million)

7. End of Watch (Open Road) – $4.3 million -45% (up .2 million)

8. House at the End of the Street (Relativity Media) – $3.6 million -50%

9. Finding Nemo 3D (Disney) – $2.1 million -45% (down .1 million)

10. The Master (The Weinstein Company) – $1.6 million – 41%

This week’s “CHOSEN ONE” is Butter (Radius – TWC), the Jim Field Smith-directed dark comedy starring Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman, Ashley Greene, Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone. It’s centered around a heated butter-carving competition in rural Iowa where Garner’s Lauren Pickler, wife of the reigning champion Bob Pickler (Burrell), is trying to keep the title in the family, but having to face a young adopted black girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) and an angry stripped named Brooke (Olivia Wilde). Having premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, Butter opens in select cities following a month-long run on Video On Demand.

Mini-Review from Toronto

Video Interviews with the Cast

Interview with Director Jim Field Smith

In Julian Farino’s comedy The Oranges (ATO Pictures), Hugh Laurie and Oliver Platt play best friends and neighbors in suburban West Orange, New Jersey whose relationship is put to the test when the former starts a relationship with the latter’s 20-something daughter Nina, played by Leighton Meister. Also starring Catherine Keener, Allison Janney and Alia Shakat, the suburban dramedy opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Precious director Lee Daniels is back with The Paperboy (Millennium Films), a period crime-thriller starring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, David Odelowo and John Cusack. It involves the murder of a local sheriff and the various players including a writer (Odelowo) and reporter (McConaughey) trying to learn the truth, the latter’s younger brother (Efron), the primary suspect (Cusack) and the love-crazed woman who starts corresponding with him from outside (Kidman). It opens in select cities Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold is back with her unconventional take on Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights (Oscilloscope Laboratories) that follows the love story between a young girl named Catherine and Heathcliff, the young boy her family takes in. It opens in select cities.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Switzerland’s Oscar submission is Ursula Meier’s drama Sister (Adopt Films), starring Kacey Mottet Klein and Lea Seydoux as siblings living at a luxurious Swiss ski resort, where twelve-year-old Simon takes on the responsibility of providing for both of them by stealing from the rich tourists to sell to the locals. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

The anthology found footage horror film V/H/S (Magnet Films) brings together indie filmmakers Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West and the collective Radio Silence, each providing a short film that acts as the contents of video tapes found within an abandoned house. It opens in select cities following its run on VOD, and you can find out where on the Magnolia Pictures site.

Opening at New York’s Film Forum is Burt Sun and André Costantini’s documentary Bel Borba Aqui (Abramorama) about the Brazilian artist known as “The People’s Picasso” due to his use of unconventional recycled materials to create sculptures, paintings and mosaics.

Decoding Deepak (SnagFilms) is journalist Gotham Chopra’s year-long diary of going on the road with his father Deepak Chopra to show how the real man differentiates from the spiritual icon.

Opening next Monday at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem is Atia and Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji’s doc In My Mother’s Arms about an Iraqi orphanage in Baghdad, which is about to close down due to lack of funding.

Roberto Faenza’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (FilmBuff), based on Peter Cameron’s novel, stars Toby Regbo as a teenager trying to deal with the divorce of his parents, played by Marcia Gay Harden and Peter Gallagher. The drama, which also stars Ellen Burstyn, Stephen Lang, Deborah Ann Woll, Aubrey Plaza and Lucy Liu, opens in select cities and on VOD Friday.

One movie that’s not exactly new but is getting a theatrical release here after forty years is Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (Drafthouse Films), an Australian thriller starring Gary Bond as a schoolteacher who finds himself stranded in a town known as “The Yabba” where he becomes entangled with a group of ne’er-do-wells including a doctor played by Donald Pleasance (Halloween). It will open at the Film Forum in New York on Friday, then expands to Boston and Austin on October 12 and Los Angeles on October 19.

Next week, the month of October rolls along with five new movies in wide release as Ben Affleck takes on the real-life drama of saving hostages in Iran in the period thriller Argo (Warner Bros.), Kevin James takes on MMA in the comedy Here Comes the Boom (Sony), Ethan Hawke finds scary film footage in his attic in Scott Derrickson’s horror film Sinister (Summit), and Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken make up three of Martin (In Bruges) McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (CBS Films). Also, we get the second part of the Ayn Rand adaptation Atlas Shrugged Part II (The Strike Productions).

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the new Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.

Copyright 2012 Edward Douglas

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