Neeson thriller stays on top in second frame for robust $86.8 mil domestic cume

The weekend box office was buoyed by a mix of pics ranging from hip to hip replacement.

Playing strongly to auds 50 and over, Warner Bros.’ “Argo,” with an estimated $20.1 million, led the weekend’s quintet of new wide releases, while Fox added to the congestion as holdover champ “Taken 2″ collected $22.5 million in its second frame, leading the B.O. with a beefy domestic cume of $86.8 million.

Trailing “Argo” among the weekend’s newcomers, Summit’s haunted house scarer “Sinister” got off to a good start, with an estimated$18.3 million from auds mostly under 35.

Sony’s Kevin James family comedy “Here Comes the Boom” grossed a projected $12 million, while CBS Films’ “Seven Psychopaths” underperformed, earning $4.3 million from 1,480 locations. “Psychopaths,” however, will have an opportunity to redeem itself Oct. 26, when CBS expands the pic further domestically.

Despite a little cannibalization, the competitive mix of new entries and holdovers boosted totals some 45% over this time last year — the second straight comparable year-over-year improvement.

Self-distributed sequel “Atlas Shrugged: Part II,” from Atlas Distribution, was a test case in laissez-faire capitalism, as moviegoers voluntarily decided to buy just $1.7 million worth of tickets, even though the Ayn Rand adaptation bowed at an aggressive 1,017 Stateside locations. The free market resulted in an average of just $1,688 per screen.

Holding extremely well, Sony’s toon repeat player “Hotel Transylvania” dropped just 36% in its third outing, grossing $17.3 million — enough for the weekend’s No. 4 spot and a topnotch domestic cume of $102.2 million.

Disney’s soph-sesh pic “Frankenweenie,” meanwhile, fell 39% for a weekend gross of $7 million. Domestic cume is $22 million.

Though “Taken 2″ again won overall internationally, with $41 million (down 26%), the Spanish opening of tsunami disaster pic “The Impossible,” at $13.4 million via Warner Bros. Intl., broke records for the country’s biggest three-day and four-day opening ever. Summit bows the pic Stateside Dec. 21.

Another record fell this weekend as Universal’s “Ted,” with $469 million worldwide, became the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy, beating “The Hangover” ($467.5 million).

Cannibalizing crowd?

The crush of five wide entries this weekend hurt “Seven Psychopaths,” which had to compete for male interest in “Taken” and “Sinister.” R-rated “Sinister” skewed 56% male, with two-thirds of the aud in the 18-34 demo.

“Psychopaths” earned 62% of its opening from men, and 71% of the pic’s crowd was 25 and older.

“Argo” drew an overwhelming 74% over-35 crowd, of which more than half was over 50. As evidence, the film increased a sizable 47% from Friday to Saturday, driven largely by adults.

“Just looking at the demos, it’s exciting,” said Warner domestic distribution prexy Dan Fellman, referring to the pic’s potential legs. “Adult movies tend to play and play. I just feel like we benefited from the perfect storm.”

“Argo” should play similarly to helmer Ben Affleck’s 2010 “The Town,” which opened with $23.8 million and cumed $92 million domestically. Fellman said he feels “Argo” could hit $100 million Stateside, which would be a five-times multiple, based on the film’s $20 million opening.

“Argo” received an uber-rare A+ CinemaScore rating.

Fellman admitted there still is room for improvement in places across the South and Midwest, as well as throughout Canada (excluding Toronto). That said, Canada made up more than 8% of the film’s domestic opening, compared to the country’s more typical 6% contribution.

Budgeted at around $50 million, “Argo” is based on the true story of a 1980 CIA operation that centered around a fake Hollywood movie production used to rescue six Americans trapped in the Canadian embassy in Iran. The film stars Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman.

Sony’s “Here Comes the Boom,” meanwhile, likely was hurt somewhat by overperforming family fare like “Hotel Transylvania,” though “Boom” still earned 55% of its opening from non-families. Of the pic’s family turnout, parents contributed 19%, with children under 12 at 26%. Sony spent considerable marketing muscle targeting the film to families and Hispanics.

“I definitely think this film will be around for weeks to come,” said Sony distrib topper Rory Bruer.

Paramount’s big opener “Paranormal Activity 4″ will severely limit playability for “Sinister” next weekend, though David Spitz, exec VP of distribution for Lionsgate, said the film’s opening has positioned it well regardless.

“Everybody was saying Thursday that there was no way for us to break through the clutter, but we wound up being the No. 1 film on Friday,” Spitz said. “For us, it was always about getting the movie open at the highest possible level.”

Since “Sinister” cost just $3 million from producer Jason Blum’s Blumhouse shingle, the film is on track to becoming profitable. It had this weekend’s highest per-screen average among the wide releases at $7,222 from 2,527 locations.

‘Perks’ droops slightly

Summit’s other current title, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” faltered for the first time since opening four weeks ago, averaging a so-so $2,983 from 726 locations. “Perks” just cracked the top 10 with $2.2 million for a solid domestic cume of $6.2 million.

The teen-targeted film has been legging out nicely since bowing Sept. 21, though pic was likely hurt somewhat in wide release by Universal’s sturdy femme-driven holdover “Pitch Perfect,” which fell just 37% this weekend.

In limited release, Sundance title “Middle of Nowhere,” which is distributed by African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), estimated $78,000 from six locations, yielding the weekend’s highest per-screen average of $13,000.

Sony Pictures Classics launched another pic from Park City, “Smashed,” which scored a not-so-hot $7,506 per-screen average from four locations in New York and L.A. SPC’s music docu “Searching for Sugar Man” reached $1.7 million domestically thanks to an aggressive expansion to 157 engagements this weekend.

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