‘Taken 2,’ ‘Argo’ in tight race for No. 1 at weekend box office

There will be a tense standoff between two hostage movies at the box office this weekend, as “Taken 2” and “Argo” battle for No. 1.

After a spectacular $49.5-million debut last weekend, the Liam Neeson sequel “Taken 2" will likely collect an additional $24 million this round, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. That’s about how much Ben Affleck’s international thriller “Argo” is expected to generate during its first weekend in theaters.

Four other new films will be hitting theaters Friday, with the horror flick “Sinister” looking to score the best opening of the bunch. The low-budget picture starring Ethan Hawke -- debuting in some theaters at 10 P.M. Thursday -- could take in $18 million by the end of the weekend. The Kevin James comedy “Here Comes the Boom” won’t be far behind with a so-so launch of around $16 million.

Playing in at least 1,000 fewer locations than other newcomers, the well-reviewed dark crime comedy “Seven Psychopaths” will likely open with roughly $6 million. “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” -- bowing in 1,000 theaters this weekend, compared with over 3,000 for “Argo” -- won’t make much of a dent with an expected $3-million start.

Directed by and starring Affleck, “Argo” is based on the true story of a CIA agent who concocted a fake movie scheme to rescue six State Department employees during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. The film is the third directorial effort from the actor-turned-filmmaker, following his two Boston-set crime dramas, “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.” The latter film was considered a commercial and critical success, grossing $154 million worldwide. (“Gone Baby Gone” collected only $34.6 million globally three years prior.)


Critically beloved, “Argo” has generated good buzz on the fall festival circuit and is already being heralded as an early Oscar contender. The movie, which is so far generating the most interest among older females, was co-financed by distributor Warner Bros. and producer Graham King’s GK Films for about $44 million.

“Sinister,” starring Hawke as a crime writer who stumbles across a mysterious box of home movies, has received especially positive response from critics for a horror movie -- though the genre is not typically review-driven. On Thursday, the film had notched a 71% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Summit Entertainment acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the $3-million picture last year. The movie is directed by Scott Derrickson, best known for the 2008 sci-fi remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” starring Keanu Reeves.

With “Here Comes the Boom,” James is trying to further his reputation as a comedic leading man. While he had a surprise hit in 2009’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” the 47-year-old actor has yet to prove he can consistently open a movie. His last film, 2011’s family comedy “Zookeeper,” grossed $170 million worldwide but cost $80 million to produce.

In “Boom,” James stars as a biology teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter to help raise money for his financially strapped school. The movie was financed by Sony Pictures for about $42 million.

“Seven Psychopaths” is a quirky ensemble comedy that tells the story of a screenwriter played by Colin Farrell who is able to move past his writer’s block after his friends -- played by Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken -- steal a Shih Tzu. The movie, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month to rave reaction, was co-financed by distributor CBS Films with FilmFour and BFI for $13.5 million

The movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, best known for 2008’s “In Bruges,” which also featured Farrell. While that movie eventually earned the filmmaker an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, it tanked at the box office, grossing only $7.8 million domestically.


‘Taken 2' hijacks No. 1 with excellent $50-million debut

In ‘Argo,’ Ben Affleck trades Boston crime for Tehran troubles

Martin McDonagh’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’ packs heat, deeper meaning