Liam Neeson actioner could beat up $50 mil

It should be another ass-kicking weekend for Liam Neeson at the domestic box office as Fox’s “Taken 2” looks to lead with a projected $40 million-$45 million debut.

The weekend’s other nationwide players should make an OK impression on moviegoers: Disney’s 3D stop-motion B&W toon “Frankenweenie,” from Tim Burton, is expected to land in the high teens, while Universal’s wide expansion of “Pitch Perfect” should earn at around $15 million, for a domestic cume surpassing $20 million through Sunday.

Earnings from the frame’s wide trio alone could contribute as much as $80 million; this time last year totals topped out at $95 million, which this sesh should beat handily. This weekend should be the second straight year-over-year improvement, following the B.O.’s recent four-week losing streak.

“Taken 2,” the follow-up to Neeson’s 2009 worldwide sleeper hit from producer Luc Besson, has been tracking solidly for several weeks as the No. 1 choice for adult moviegoers, leading more bullish pundits to predict a potential $50 million upside. “Frankenweenie,” not surprisingly, is rivaling the Liam Neeson actioner in unaided awareness among moms, teens and pre-teens.

The first “Taken” debuted Jan. 30 to the tune of $24.7 million. That pic gave Neeson serious cred as a worldwide action star and became one of the year’s biggest B.O. surprises, grossing $226.8 million globally. Fox again looks to exploit the original’s overseas popularity by launching “Taken 2” day-and-date this weekend in 27 countries, including Brazil, China, Mexico and the U.K.

The sequel bowed Wednesday in France via its producer EuropaCorp, with $1.8 million — quadruple the French opening day gross of the film’s predecessor.

Back in the States, weekend projections for $39 million-budgeted “Frankenweenie” are guided, in part, by openings for past stop-motion toons like “ParaNorman” ($14.1 million) and “Coraline” ($16.8 million). However, Burton’s 2005 “Corpse Bride” may provide the best gauge, since it started out limited but grossed $19 million during its first weekend of wide release.

Last weekend’s top pic “Hotel Transylvania” could still provide family competition for “Frankenweenie.” The Sony toon, at $48.1 million domestically, dropped to No. 2 (behind “Looper”) during mid-weeks with kids are back in school.

Meanwhile, the week-early bow of “Pitch Perfect,” at 335 locations, makes predicting that film’s wide expansion more difficult. But the teen-targeted tuner, which expands today to 2,770 playdates, has seen strong mid-week biz, meaning its playability likely has broadened to some adults.

Summit also is doubling the location count for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” to 221 Stateside engagements. Pic has cumed $1.7 million domestically after two weeks.

Indie comedy “Butter,” from the Weinstein Co. and Radius, launches at 90 locations after playing for several weeks on VOD. Magnolia’s “V/H/S” — another pre-theatrical VOD release — bows at 15.

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