LOS ANGELES -- 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 $22.5 million in its second weekend. "Taken 2" raised its domestic total to $86.8 million.
Affleck's "Argo," an Iranian hostage thriller from Warner Bros., opened in second-place with $20.1 million.
Ethan Hawke's "Sinister," about a true-crime writer caught up in supernatural horror, debuted at No. 3 with $18.3 million. The movie was released by Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment banner.
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 $12 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, CBS Films' crime comedy "Seven Psychopaths," also opened to small crowds, taking in $4.3 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 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 U.S. embassy takeover by disguising them as members of a fake movie crew.
Revenues on the film ticked up a whopping 47 percent 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."
Hollywood's business continues to grow as it heads into the busy holiday season. Overall domestic revenues came in at $132 million, up 51 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Real Steel" led with $16.3 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Taken 2," $22.5 million ($41 million international).
2. "Argo," $20.1 million.
3. "Sinister," $18.3 million ($4 million international).
4. "Hotel Transylvania," $17.3 million ($13.7 million international).
5. "Here Comes the Boom," $12 million.
6. "Pitch Perfect," $9.3 million.
7. "Frankenweenie," $7 million ($4.9 million international).
8. "Looper," $6.3 million ($7.5 million international).
9. "Seven Psychopaths," $4.3 million.
10. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," $2.2 million.
Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1. "Taken 2," $41 million.
2. "Ted," $13.9 million.
3. "Hotel Transylvania," $13.7 million.
4. "The Impossible," $13.4 million.
5. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," $10.4 million.
6. "Looper," $7.5 million.
7. "Resident Evil: Retribution," $5.8 million.
8. "Masquerade," $5.3 million.
9. "Frankenweenie," $4.9 million.
10 (tie). "A Company Man," $4 million.
10 (tie). "Sinister," $4 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.