Big Crowded Weekend: ‘Taken 2’ Still #1; Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ Opens #2; ‘Sinister’ #3; ‘Boom’ #5; ‘Seven Psychopaths’ #9; And ‘Atlas Shrugged Part 2 #10

SUNDAY AM, 5TH UPDATE: What a crowded domestic box office with five films opening in wide release. And it’s not even a holiday weekend. I just don’t get the distribution crush, especially with so much sports on TV (college and NFL football, baseball playoffs). Nevertheless, it was another major-league grossing weekend: $120M which is up a whopping +45% from last year. Twentieth Century Fox’s popcorn action holdover Taken 2 (3,706 theaters) starring Liam Neeson finished #1 for the second straight weekend with $22M, or a good -54% hold from a week ago. Cume is now $86.M

Following in #2 this weekend is yet another critically acclaimed and Oscar buzzed Ben Affleck R-rated film for Warner Bros. Argo (3,232 theaters) opened Friday #3 because exhibition told me it was playing “very old”. But pic logged a rare ‘A+’ CinemaScore from audiences which resulted in great word of mouth and a bump of +50% Friday to Saturday. Now it ends the weekend #2 and $20.1M. That’s less than director Affleck’s previous The Town opener ($23.8M) for this true story of the ‘Canadian Caper’ covert operation to rescue 6 Americans during the 1979-1980 Iran hostage crisis. But it should have legs since The Town kept widening its audience week after week. Made on just a  $44M budget, which included a $6.4M California film tax credit, Argo was financed by Warner Bros and Graham King’s GK Films (which also backed The Town). To save money, most of the pic was filmed right in Los Angeles and with a large pool of local Iranian-American extras supplementing star Affleck and supporting actors Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Screenplay by writer Chris Terrio was adapted from a Wired magazine article and a memoir chapter from CIA spy Tony Mendez. Script was commissioned by Smokehouse Pictures producers Grant  Heslov and George Clooney who then selected helmer Affleck, a Middle Eastern studies major at Occidental College before dropping out to act. (Clooney first intended to play the pic’s lead himself before passing the role to Affleck. By the way, I could have done without so many extended but distracting close-ups of bearded Ben.) Warner Bros’ marketing campaign “sought to highlight the well-crafted tension, balanced by a unique comedic sensibility, which results in a completely original, wildly entertaining movie,” an exec tells me. Studio drove early interest and critical accolades at the Telluride Film Festival in August, and then built upon that at Toronto. A multipronged TV, social media, and online campaign was targeted to both males and females before release. Affleck was everywhere and on everyone and did everything. Red Carpet premiere in LA included tastemakers from DC and NY.

Friday’s order of finish was up-ended when Summit Entertainment’s Sinister came on very strong during late shows for #1. The horror pic (2,527 theaters) went into this weekend as the top-selling film online at Fandango and Movie Tickets with 25%-30% of all tickets. Then it started out better than expected with $1 million from Thursday’s late shows and Friday midnights in 1,494 locations. Unfortunately, audiences gave it only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore so it fell to #3. But it’s $18.8M by end of Sunday is incredible in view of its $3M cost and R-rating. Lionsgate’s Summit is distributing in the U.S. and Alliance in Canada. The film’s producers Jason Blum (of the Paranormal Activity franchise) and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Insidious) along with the director/writer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) were the creative team behind the micro-budget film. Ethan Hawke comes out of the Witness Protection Program to play a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious and disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a supernatural nightmare. Summit kicked off its theatrical marketing campaign for Sinister at SXSW and then focused on moviegoers aged 17-34 reaching out to African American and Hispanic moviegoers. The studio used Tugg, the collective action platform, to allow fans across the country to organize their own word-of-mouth screenings in their hometowns. The trailer launched at midnight on June 13th simultaneously across the 6 top horror sites, which had never been done before. A red band trailer debuted 3 months later.

Sony Animation’s blockbuster toon Hotel Transylvania (3,375 theaters) will scare up another strong weekend by holding -32% from a week ago. It could move up to #3 or #2 for the weekend with $19M.

That pushes down Sony’s Kevin James new comedy Here Comes The Boom (3,014 theaters) to 5th place with what even the studio said was a “hard fought” $12M. That’s a lousy per screen average for the likeable James and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison banner in this live action comedy. (I should note they’re voice talent in the big hit Hotel Transylvania.) But audiences gave the family fare a surprisingly good ‘A’ CinemaScore which should help word of mouth. Studio knew from tracking that this movie was in trouble from the get-go – but it was made for only low $40sM. James even did stunts like teaching TV viewers how to be an MMA fighter and serving as Grand Marshal at Talladega. Big marketing push to sports outlets with integrations in UFC (natch), NFL and college football (“Bringing the Boom”), NASCAR, MLB playoffs, and wrestling.

Playing is half as many locations, CBS Films’ well reviewed R-rated Seven Psychopaths (1,408 theaters) ended #9 but with -40% less box office take than the studio was hoping. Not clear if film can find a bigger audience beyond its urban and college town plays. The movie was co-financed by CBS Films and Film4 and BFI at a cost of just teens. It’s got a 90+ score on Rotten Tomatoes and won the People’s Choice Award in Toronto. Not surprising with a cast consisting of Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, and Colin Farrell who also starred in pic’s writer/director Martin McDonaugh’s first feature film In Bruges. Studio’s current plan is to expand on the other side of Paranormal Activity 4 on October 26 so word of mouth has time to grow. Paid media spend was limited given the scope of the release and targeted to men 18–49. Heavy TV sports and scripted series as well as print. Film premiered as part of Toronto’s Midnight Madness and extended to Hampton’s and Mill Valley film fests. Online content initiatives included Seven PsychoCATS. Best was that viral video from the LA junket where Walken, Rockwell, and Farrell did Honey Boo Boo.

Public shrugged at Atlas Shrugged Part 2 (1,012 theaters). Serious drama to Ayn Rand accolytes, hilarious comedy to the rest of us, its gross fell from Friday to Saturday – never a good sign – for #10 for the weekend.

Here’s the Top Ten based on weekend estimates:

1. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 2 [3,706 Runs] PG13
Friday $7.0M, Saturday $9.8M, Weekend $22.7M (-54%), Cume $86.3M

2. Argo (Warner Bros) NEW [3,232 Runs] R
Friday $5.9M, Saturday $8.9M, Weekend $20.1M

3. Sinister (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [2,527 Runs] R
Friday $7.4M, Saturday $7.0M, Weekend $18.8M

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