Taken 2 tops US box office
Liam Neeson in Taken 2. Picture: AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Magali Bragard.

Critics don't like Taken 2, but Liam Neeson's action sequel has proved twice the hit among fans as the original movie was.

Taken 2 led the North American box office with $US50 million ($A49.04 million) over the opening weekend, according to studio estimates on Sunday. That's double the haul for Neeson's Taken, which took in $US24.7 million in its US debut in early 2009.

Taken went on to become a $US145 million smash for Neeson, the Academy Award-nominated star of Schindler's List who has become an unlikely action hero in his 50s.

In Taken 2, Neeson returns as a retired CIA agent using his expert espionage and killing skills to take on a gang of thugs out for revenge against him and his family.

"He gives hope to aging men," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "He's done the reverse of most actors, where you do the action stuff when you're younger then do the more introspective work when you're older. He's sort of turned it around. When he's 80, he'll probably be kicking even more butt."

Taken 2, which began rolling out overseas a weekend earlier, added $US55 million more in about 50 international markets to raise its worldwide total to $US117 million.

The previous weekend's No.1 movie at the US box office, Adam Sandler's animated hit Hotel Transylvania, dropped to second place with $US26.3 million. The Sony release raised its domestic total to $US76 million, and it has taken in $US29.3 million overseas for a worldwide haul of $US105.3 million.

Expanding into a US-wide release after a limited debut a week earlier, Universal's music tale Pitch Perfect moved up to third place with $US14.7 million. The movie stars Anna Kendrick as a college freshman spicing things up for her a cappella singing squad.

Sony's sci-fi thriller Looper, starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, fell from second place to fourth with $US12.2 million, lifting its domestic haul to $US40.3 million.

Tim Burton's animated monster tale Frankenweenie had a slow start, taking in $US11.5 million to round out the top five. The Disney release is an update of Burton's 1984 live-action short film, about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life.

Released by 20th Century Fox, Taken 2 gave a big boost to Hollywood revenues, which have lagged most weekends since the late (northern) summer. Domestic business totalled $US138 million, up 45.5 per cent from the same weekend last year, when Real Steel led with $US27.3 million.

While the first movie got respectable reviews, Taken 2 was panned by critics as a replay of the original. Audiences rarely care what critics say, though.

"Most people go to the movies for a certain dose of escapism," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox. "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."

Frankenweenie had a modest debut compared to Burton's last animated feature, Corpse Bride, which took in $US19.1 million in its first weekend of wide release in 2005. Both films were made through stop-motion animation, using puppets moved incrementally and photographed a frame at a time.

Corpse Bride had the advantage of Burton's superstar pal Johnny Depp leading the voice cast. And Frankenweenie was a tough sell both for its stop-motion style, which is far less popular than the computer-generated look of today's animation blockbusters, and for its black-and-white presentation, done in homage to classic monster movies.

Frankenweenie also faced stiff competition from Sandler's animated monster mash-up Hotel Transylvania.

But with a budget of $US39 million, Frankenweenie cost far less to produce than computer-animated films, whose price tags can run to $US150 million or more.

Disney is counting on good reviews and positive audience reaction to keep Frankenweenie afloat through Halloween and beyond.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through to Sunday at US and Canadian theatres, according to Hollywood.com.

1. Taken 2, $US50 million

2. Hotel Transylvania, $US26.3 million

3. Pitch Perfect, $US14.7 million

4. Looper, $US12.2 million

5. Frankenweenie, $US11.5 million

6. End of Watch, $US4 million

7. Trouble with the Curve, $US3.9 million

8. House at the End of the Street, $US3.7 million

9. The Master, $US1.8 million

10. Finding Nemo, $US1.6 million

The West Australian

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