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Over $50M 'Taken' in as Liam Neeson sequel thrills audiences, box office

Sequel "Taken 2" stormed to the top of the North American box office with a record-breaking $50 million debut, more than double the original 2009 film and marking more good news for Liam Neeson. It also helped drive up ticket sales 43 percent over the same weekend last year.

From 20th Century Fox and EuropaCorp, the action pic also did plenty of damage overseas, where it grossed $55 million from its first 27 markets for a worldwide opening of $105 million.

In North America, "Taken 2" nabbed the best-ever October opening for a PG-13 film and the third showing best overall after "Paranormal Activity 3" ($52.6 million) and "Jackass 3D" ($50.4 million), both rated R.

"Taken 2" opens almost two years after "Taken" transformed into a sleeper box-office hit, revitalizing Neeson's career and grossing $226.8 million globally after opening domestically to $24.7 million in early January 2009.

The sequel returns Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen as the daughter and ex-wife of Neeson's character, Bryan Mills. This time out, the story is set in Istanbul, where Janssen's character is kidnapped and the daughter goes on the run. Luc Besson reteamed with Robert Mark Kamen to write the script, while Olivier Megaton replaces Pierre Morel in the director's chair.

"People love Liam, and identify with this character and his drive to protect his family at all costs," Fox president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson said.

Late night moviegoing has been sluggish since the Aurora theater shooting in late July, but "Taken 2" proved an exception as it grossed $1.5 million in Thursday midnight runs and enjoyed strong 10 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday.

"Taken 2," receiving a B+ CinemaScore, played to a broad audience despite being ravaged by critics. Males made up 52 percent of the those buying tickets, while females made up 48 percent. Agewise, 56 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, and 44 percent under.

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Fox -- which only distributed "Taken" -- made "Taken 2" with Besson's EuropaCorp and is distributing the film in most parts of the world.

Holdover "Hotel Transylvania" stayed strong in its second weekend, grossing in the $27 million range for a domestic cume north of $76 million. The 3-D kids pic, also helping to fuel the domestic box office recovery, is turning in the top performance ever for Sony Pictures Animation.

"Hotel Transylvania" grossed $13.1 million overseas from 22 markets, bringing the film's global cume to $105.3 million.

Universal's female-fueled musical comedy placed a solid No. 3, grossing north of $14 million as it expanded nationwide for a domestic cume of $21.6 million.

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The modestly-budgeted "Pitch Perfect," which cost $17 million to make and opened in limited release last weekend to spark word of mouth, stars Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow. The film was co-financed by Universal and Paul Brooks' GoldCircle Films. Brooks produced alongside Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman.

"We're very happy with the film's performance. We had great momentum going into the weekend, and we are on the road to profitability," said Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco.

Pitch Perfect received an A CinemaScore, while more than 80 percent of the audience were females. More than 60 percent of the audience was under the age of 30.

The news wasn't so good for Tim Burton’s 3-D black-and-white, stop-motion animated "Frankenweenie,"  which debuted to $11.5 million, well less than the $15 million to $20 million that Disney had hoped for. The pic, hurt by the continued strength of "Hotel Transylvania," only managed a fifth-place finish.

"Frankenweenie" -- an homage to author Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" -- is a remake of Burton's 1984 short film about a boy who brings his dog back to life with unintended consequences. The film garnered glowing reviews, and a B+ CinemaScore.

Disney, which produced the film for $39 million, believes word of mouth will be strong heading into the Halloween stretch, resulting in a steady flow of moviegoers. Of those turning out opening weekend, 56 percent were families, while 32 percent were couples.

"Because of the stop-motion and the black and white, the casual moviegoer might need permission to see this film," said Disney executive vice president of distribution Dave Hollis.

"Frankenweenie" did solid business in Imax theaters, which accounted for $1.3 million in business domestically (the film begins rolling out overseas next weekend).

In its second weekend, "Looper," the twisty time-travelling movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, from Sony's TriStar, FilmDistrict and Endgame, ranked fourth as it collected an estimated $12 million for a 10-day domestic cume of $40 million.

Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" got off to a sluggish start at the specialty box office, despite a high-profile cast that includes Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey. Produced by Nu Image/Millennium and distributed by Millennium Entertainment, the film grossed $110,033 from 11 theaters for a location average of $10,033.

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