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Liam Neeson Expected to Blow Away Box-Office Rivals With ‘Taken 2’

Liam Neeson and  "Taken 2" are expected to manhandle box office rivals, with analysts projecting a debut of roughly $35 million

“Taken 2’ won’t sneak up on the box office the way “Taken” did when it became a surprise global smash and made Liam Neeson an action hero in 2008.

But Fox’s sequel will blow away the box office competition this weekend, say industry analysts, who expect it to debut at between $35 million and $40 million. Last week's No. 1 film, Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania,” is pegged for second with about $24 million.

The weekend’s two other wide openers, Disney’s “Frankenweenie” and Universal’s “Pitch Perfect,” are projected by analysts to take in $18 million and $15 million respectively. The latter film's numbers are less solid since this is an expansion rather than an opening, making tracking trickier. The sci-fi thriller  "Looper," last week's No. 2, is also expected to make the leader board.

Those five films’ demographic targets are varied — with the exception of similarly themed family films “Frankenweenie” and “Hotel Transylvania — and broad enough that all of them could do well. If they come near those numbers it will add up to another positive weekend for the overall box office, which last week broke a month-long losing streak.

Also read: 'Taken 2' Review: Shoddy Sequel Has a Particular Set of Stupid

In “Taken 2,” Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the former CIA agent and overprotective dad who rescued his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from the clutches of Albanian baddies in the first film. Unaware that crime boss Murad (Rade Serbedzija) has sworn revenge on Bryan for gunning down Murad’s son in the first movie, Bryan invites Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) to join him on a trip to Istanbul. And then the fun begins.

Olivier Megaton (“Columbiana”) steps in a director, replacing Pierre Morel, but screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are back.

The original debuted to roughly $25 million, so this sequel should beat the bow of that well-reviewed movie. However, the critics have been borderline cruel to "Taken 2." Just 46 percent of the reviews on Movie Review Intelligence have been positive, even lower on Rotten Tomatoes.

No one is expecting “Taken 2” to run up numbers like the original film, which took in $224 million worldwide, but it should have a strong opening. With 2010’s “Clash of the Titans” and last year’s “The Grey,” Neeson has proven a bankable action star (we won't hold "The A Team" and "Battleship" against him).

“He’s definitely in line for an ‘Expendables’ sequel,” Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap.

Like the original, “Taken 2” is rated PG-13. It will be in 3,005 locations.

Disney’s black-and-white, stop-motion-animated “Frankenweenie” will be on 3,005 screens. A healthy 2,640 of those will be 3D, and the premium pricing will boost the grosses.

Also read: 'Frankenweenie' Review: Tim Burton Returns to Form With a (Very) Young Frankenstein

It’s the third kid-targeted horror comedy to hit the market recently, with “Hotel Transylvania” and “ParaNorman,” but director Tim Burton has puts his distinctive stamp on this one in terms of look and tenor.

Critics have hailed it as a return to Burton roots. It’s based on his own 1984 action short and Burton has brought back several members of his repertory — Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short — as the voice cast.

Eighty-three percent of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive, as are 80 percent on Movie Review Intelligence.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Universal’s musical comedy “Pitch Perfect,” expands to 2,770 locations following last week’s limited debut.

It’s based on the non-fiction book of the same name written by Mickey Rapkin, a senior editor at GQ magazine who spent a season covering collegiate a cappella. Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) stars, alongside Brittany Snow (TV’s “Harry’s Law”), Anna Camp (“True Blood”) and Rebel Wilson (“Bridesmaids”).

Also read: Universal Bets Perky 'Pitch Perfect' Will Keep Box Office Beat (Video)

Seeking to cash in on major social media buzz, Universal rolled it out on 335 screens. It rang up $5.1 million with a per-screen average north of $15,560. Whether that will cut into this weekend’s wide debut, or provide a launch pad for an even bigger bow, is the question.

On the specialty front, Millennium Entertainment’s R-rated erotic thriller “The Paperboy,” starring Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman, will open on nine screens

Also read: 'The Paperboy' Review: A Lurid, Sweaty, Sticky Mess

Lee Daniels (“Precious”) directed and adapted the screenplay from Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel. It tells the story of a young man (Efron) helping a reporter (Matthew McConaughey) uncover the truth about a death row inmate (John Cusack), who might have been wrongly convicted. In the process, he falls for the convict’s lover (Kidman).

“The Paperboy” debuted to mixed reviews in competition at Cannes this year, with much of the media attention focused on a scene in which Kidman's urinates on Efron (to treat a jellyfish sting).

The Weinstein Company’s Radius label is at long last releasing the low-budget indie comedy “Butter,” produced by and starring Jennifer Garner.

Also read: 'Butter' Review: Spreads Too Thin on the Big Screen

Set in a small Iowa town, “Butter” tells the tale of an adopted girl (Yara Shahidi) who discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious — and some say Sarah Palin-esque — local woman (Garner) in their town's annual contest.

Rob Corddry, Alicia Silverstone, Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman and Ashley Greene co-star in the low-budget comedy produced by Garner..

The film may sound familiar. It's been on the festival circuit for more than a year. It was at last year’s Toronto Film Festival that Harvey Weinstein invited Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachman, then riding a Tea Party crest, to co-host the film’s premiere in Iowa. She didn’t make it, and wasn’t on hand for the film’s premiere in New York last week, either.

The movie wrapped shooting more than two years ago and is already available on video-on-demand and iTunes. Radius employed a similar digital-first strategy earlier this year with its comedy “The Bachelorette.” It will be in 75 locations.