Liam Neeson new movie Taken 2 has narrowly beaten Ben Affleck’s thriller Argo to stay top of the North American box office.
Taken 2 took $22.5 million according to early estimates, with Argo making $20.1 million.
Ethan Hawke’s Sinister, a supernatural horror about a crime writer, debuted at number three with $18.3 million.
Taken 2 has not been a big hit with the critics, while Argo is already creating Oscar buzz.
Some critics described Taken 2 as just a replay of the original.
Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA agent who travels across Europe to save his estranged daughter, who has been kidnapped on a trip to Paris.
“It kind of proves that reviews do not matter,” said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box office tracker Hollywood.com.
“Audiences just continue to eat this up. They just love Liam Neeson in this role.”
Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo, based on a real-life story about a CIA operative who hatches a plan to rescue six Americans hiding in Tehran after the 1979 US embassy takeover.
Revenues from the film increased by 47% between Friday – its opening day – and Saturday.
“This is a really good indication of how quickly word of mouth can spread,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros.
“The critical acclaim in this case is going to translate into commercial success.”
Family comedy Hotel Transylvania and Kevin James comedy Here Comes the Boom rounded out the top five.
NORTH AMERICAN BOX OFFICE
1. Taken 2 – $22.5 million
2. Argo – $20.1 million
3. Sinister – $18.3 million
4. Hotel Transylvania – $17.3 million
5. Here Comes the Boom – $12 million
Taken 2, Liam Neeson’s thriller sequel, has topped the US and Canadian box office, taking $50 million, despite a poor reception from critics.
That is double the opening weekend for the original film, which took $24.7 million in 2009.
Last week’s number one, Adam Sandler animation Hotel Transylvania, was at two with $26.3 million.
Glee-style musical Pitch Perfect was in third with $14.7 million, following a limited release last week.
The movie stars Anna Kendrick as a college student trying to liven up her a cappella singing group.
Sci-fi thriller Looper, starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, fell from second-place to fourth with $12.2 million.
Tim Burton’s stop motion monster tale Frankenweenie opened in fifth place, taking $11.5 million, after facing competition from rival spooky animation Hotel Transylvania.
Burton’s Disney tale, about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life, is shot in black and white in a homage to classic horror movies.
This week marks another improvement to cinema takings in the US and Canada with totals of $138 million, up 45.5% on the same weekend last year.
Taken 2’s distributors 20th Century Fox said they were surprised by the film’s opening numbers after experiencing a “sluggish market” since the summer.
Chris Aronson from the company said it had “exceeded our expectations”, adding: “The come in at $50 million is really remarkable, and a testament to this character that Liam has created.”
The sequel sees Liam Neeson as a retired CIA agent who gets kidnapped on holiday in Istanbul.
“Most people go to the movies for a certain dose of escapism,” continued Chris Aronson.
“It doesn’t have to be high art. It doesn’t have to be serious and contemplative. They go to the movies to be entertained, and my gosh, that’s what this movie does.”
Despite its relatively modest opening, 2009’s original went on to take more than $227 million around the world, and turned its Irish star into a Hollywood action hero with roles in Clash of the Titans, The A-Team and The Grey.
US and Canada box office – Top Five
1. Taken 2 – $50 million
2. Hotel Transylvania – $26.3 million
3. Pitch Perfect – $14.7 million
4. Looper – $12.2 million
5. Frankenweenie – $11.5 million