Liam Neeson's Taken 2 has defended its box-office title with a narrow win over Ben Affleck's Argo.
Sunday studio estimates put 20th Century Fox's action sequel Taken 2 at No. 1 with $US22.5 million ($A22.03 million) in its second weekend. Taken 2 raised its domestic total to $US86.8 million.
Affleck's Argo, an Iranian hostage thriller from Warner Bros, opened in second-place with $US20.1 million.
Ethan Hawke's fright flick Sinister, a Lionsgate release about a true-crime writer caught up in supernatural horror, debuted at No. 3 with $US18.3 million,
Sony's Here Comes the Boom, with Kevin James as a teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts sensation, started weakly at No. 5 with $US12 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, CBS Films' crime comedy Seven Psychopaths, also opened to small crowds, taking in $US4.3 million to finish at No. 9. The movie's ensemble cast includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson.
The follow-up to Taken, the hit that established dramatic star Neeson as an action hero, Taken 2 was dinged by critics who called it a replay of the original. The sequel has Neeson's ex-CIA tough guy up against a gang of Albanian goons out for revenge for their kin that he killed in the first movie.
"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."
Argo may prove the opposite, using its great reviews and Academy Awards buzz to settle in for a long stay at the box office. Affleck directed and starred in the real-life story about a CIA operative who concocts a plan to rescue six Americans hiding in Tehran after the 1979 US embassy takeover by disguising them as members of a fake movie crew.
Revenues on the film ticked up a whopping 47 per cent from opening day Friday to Saturday, a sign that audiences were talking it up exuberantly to friends.
"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."
Argo played almost entirely to older crowds that do not necessarily rush out to see movies over opening weekend but often check out well-reviewed films in subsequent weeks.
Lionsgate was happy to come in third with Sinister, "especially given most people's projections on the film were in the low teens at best," said David Spitz, head of distribution.
"It's always nice to come in and over-perform everybody's expectations," Spitz said.
Hollywood's business continues to grow as it heads into the busy holiday season. Overall domestic revenues came in at $US132 million, up 51 per cent from the same weekend last year, when Real Steel led with $US16.3 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at US and Canadian theatres, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. Taken 2, $US22.5 million ($US41 million international).
2. Argo, $US20.1 million.
3. Sinister, $US18.3 million.
4. Hotel Transylvania, $US17.3 million.
5. Here Comes the Boom, $US12 million.
6. Pitch Perfect, $US9.3 million.
7. Frankenweenie, $US7 million ($US4.9 million international).
8. Looper, $US6.3 million.
9. Seven Psychopaths, $US4.3 million.
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, $US2.2 million.