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‘Argo,’ ‘Sinister’ Will Take Box-Office Bullet From ‘Taken 2’

Reigning champ "Taken 2" is expected to top Ben Affleck's "Argo" and Summit's horror film "Sinister" at the weekend box office

Vengeance, and the top spot at the U.S. box office, will continue to be Liam Neeson’s this weekend, with reigning champ “Taken 2’ expected to hold off four wide openers.

“Argo,” the political thriller from Warner Bros. written and directed by Ben Affleck, appears to pose the biggest threat, and Summit's horror thriller "Sinister" is a wild card. Fox’s “Taken 2” is projected to bring in around $25 million, “Argo” around $20 million and “Sinister” will be in the high-teen millions, industry analysts say.

It’s a crowded and strong marketplace. Sony is debuting the Kevin James sports comedy “Here Comes the Boom" and CBS Films is rolling out the well-reviewed action comedy “Seven Psychopaths.” That’s on top of Sony’s over-achieving kids film “Hotel Transylvania,” back for its third week, and Universal’s upstart musical comedy “Pitch Perfect,” in its second week.

Also read: Is 'Taken 2' the Limit? Foreign Box Office Makes 'Taken 3' a Good Bet

The overall box office should be up for the third consecutive week, which will make the end-of-summer doldrums just a memory. The past two weeks, coupled with the strong start of the year, have the domestic box office at $8.26 billion. That’s nearly 4 percent up on 2011 and attendance is up 2 percent for the year, according to tracking service Exhibitor Relations Co.

The R-rated “Argo” has been well-reviewed — nearly 90 percent of the reviews at Movie Review Intelligence are positive — and it has even drawn awards buzz, but “Taken 2” targets the same over-25 action audience.

The Neeson sequel, also R-rated, delivered a stunning $50 million in its debut last weekend and has played strongly through the week to raise its domestic gross to more than $62 million. It's added 45 theaters and is up to 3,706 locations.

“Argo” is based on the true story of a rescue mission that utilized a fake production of a sci-fi movie to free six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck, who produced the film with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, also stars along with Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman.

Also read: Ben Affleck Changes 'Argo' Postscript to Appease Former Canadian Ambassador

Affleck broke out as a writer-director in his second film 2010’s “The Town,” which opened to nearly $24 million and went on to make $97 million domestically, more than double its production budget.

“But this is something of a political film,” ERC’s senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap, “whereas ‘The Town’ was a pure heist flick and probably had more appeal to younger audiences. It’s hard to see ‘Argo’ matching that, especially going up against ‘Taken 2.’”

Skeptical predictions point up the similarities between "Argo" and last year's "Ides of March." That political thriller opened to $10 million last October and topped out at $41 million. Warner Bros. has "Argo" on 3,232 screens, making it the week’s widest opener.

“Sinister” is an R-rated horror thriller from Summit Entertainment, starring Ethan Hawke as a true-crime novelist who discovers a box of home movies that puts his own family in the path of a supernatural entity.

It has a great horror pedigree. The film’s producers are Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity," "Insidious") and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones ("Insidious") and the writer and director is Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"). Juliet Rylance and James Ransone co-star.

Also read: 'Argo' Review: Ben Affleck Nail-Biter Is a Smart Thrill Ride

With Halloween coming, audiences are, in theory, up for being scared, so "Sinister" is arriving at an opportune time.

This weekend will “Sinister” the chance to get out ahead of "Paranormal Activity 4," which lands next week. Summit has it in 2,525 theaters and will get a boost from 10 p.m. Thursday screenings in some markets.

"It's Facebook and Twitter activity has been very strong," Boxoffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap Thursday, comparing it to the similarly micro-budgeted "The Devil Inside," which pulled off a stunning $33 million bow for Paramount in January. "There's no doubt that it's connecting with its base," Contrino said.

The PG-rated “Here Comes the Boom” features James as former college wrestler Scott Voss, who has become a bored 42-year-old biology teacher. When budget cutbacks threaten to wipe out his school’s music program, he tries to raise money to save it by becoming a mixed martial arts fighter.

James’  “Zookeeper” director Frank Coracci is back for this one. That film opened to $20 million last year and went on to make $80 million domestically, $170 million worldwide. Were "Boom" to perform along the lines of James’ 2009 sleeper hit “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” — bowed to $31 million and took in $146 million domestically — it would shift the weekend’s landscape.

Also read: 'Here Comes the Boom' Review: Kevin James Puts Up a Fight, but Lame Comedy Packs Little Punch

Salma Hayak and Henry Winkler co-star in “Here Comes the Boom.”  It’s on about 3,000 screens and the analysts have it in the mid-teen millions for the weekend; the studio sees it a little lower.

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh returns with "Seven Psychopaths" from CBS Films. It's his first movie since 2008’s “In Bruges," for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

McDonagh writes and directs the action comedy which stars Colin Farrell as a struggling screenwriter who inadvertently becomes entangled in L.A.’s criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.

Also read: 'Seven Psychopaths' Review: It's a Throat-Slitting, Bloody, Lunatic Hoot

The critics love the Toronto Film Festival's audience prize winner; it has a 95 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  CBS Films is doing a slow rollout and with 1,480 locations, $6 million would be a strong start.

“Atlas Shrugged: Part II” will open in about 850 theaters. The second installment of the film based on Ayn Rand’s novel picks up where the first film left off, but with a new cast that includes Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe and Esai Morales.

The story is set in a dystopian United States where John Galt leads innovators, from industrialists to artists, in a strike to reassert the importance of the free use of the mind and of free market capitalism.

Also read: '2016: Obama's America': What the Surprise Right-Wing Hit Says About the Election

The team behind the film, Either Or Productions and Atlas Distribution, has skipped traditional marketing and mounted a grassroots campaign targeting political groups and media sympathetic to the film’s libertarian message. 

The first film was released last year and flopped, topping out at less than $5 million. This one, on 850 screens, isn’t expected to do much better. An opening over $2 million would be a surprise.

On the specialty front, Millennium Entertainment is expanding "The Paperboy" into 49 theaters. The R-rated erotic thriller debuted last week, starring Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman, averaged $10,033 on 11 screens.

This will be a big week for "Perks of Being a Wallflower," which Summit is expanding into 725 locations. Last week the film, starring Emma Watson, averaged $6,901 per screen in 221 theaters.