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Box Office: ‘Argo’ enters crowded field

'Taken 2' expected to prevail over Ben Affleck's CIA thriller

Above: Warner Bros.’ CIA thriller “Argo” may skew more toward 50-over auds.

The domestic box office seems to have got its groove back as Fox’s “Taken 2” and Warner Bros.’ new entry “Argo” lead a crowded and competitive weekend.

Taken 2,” which has cumed nearly $62 million domestically through Wednesday, should score its second Stateside win, with around $24 million. Ben Affleck’s true-story thriller “Argo” is benefiting from steady adult tracking, with expectations ranging from the mid-to-high teens to a potential $20 million upside.

Also in the mix are newcomers “Sinister” and “Here Comes the Boom,” from Summit and Sony, respectively, expected to range between $15 million-$16 million each.

With the weekend’s top six pics — rounded out by holdovers “Hotel Transylvania” and “Pitch Perfect” — each projected to land somewhere in the double digits, totals should handily outperform this time last year, when only two films — “Real Steel” and “Footloose” — hit that mark.Totals last weekend were up nearly 50% over 2011, the second straight year-over-year improvement following the B.O.’s recent four-week losing streak.

CBS Films is taking a somewhat modest approach this weekend with dark comedy “Seven Psychopaths,” launching the film at 1,480 locations — a smaller-than-expected footprint for the commercial ensembler, which stars Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken.

“Psychopaths,” which cost $13.5 million after rebates, should gross at around $6 million through Sunday. Distrib plans to expand the film Oct. 26.

Meanwhile, the wide release of “Atlas Shrugged: Part II,” at 1,012 locations, isn’t expected to make much of an impression: Pic, which is being released by start-up distrib Atlas Distribution, should top out at around $2 million.

Summit hopes that its hardy specialty pic, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” will break out in wider release, and is expanding the film to 726 locations. “Perks,” which has totaled nearly $4 million domestically, will compete against producer Jason Blum’s $3 million-budgeted horror pic “Sinister” for young femmes, however.

The weekend’s top players, “Taken 2” and “Argo,” will compete for adult interest, though the Warner pic may skew more toward over-50 auds.

Budgeted at around $50 million, “Argo” is based on the real story of a 1980 CIA operation that centered around a fake Hollywood movie production used to rescue six Americans from Iran. The film’s mid-fall berth mirrors Warner’s release strategy for Affleck’s durable drama “The Town,” which bowed Sept. 17, 2010, with $23.8 million and cumed $92 million domestically.

Warner execs should expect “Argo” to leg out like “The Town,” given the film’s stellar reviews so far and early awards buzz. Since Warner spent north of $50 million to market “Argo,” according to sources, the studio needs to see a lengthy run for the pic. A pricey year-end awards push could cost as much as $15 million more for the studio.

Haunted house suspenser “Sinister” will compete for one of the weekend’s higher-ranking positions, depending on how well young adults respond to the pic in lieu of “Psychopaths” or “Perks.” Summit released “Sinister” starting 10 p.m. Thursday in select theaters.

Sony has been targeting Hispanics and families for PG-rated “Here Comes the Boom,” which launches today at north of 3,000 locations. The film toplines Sony mainstay Kevin James as a high-school biology teacher, who trains as a mixed-martial arts fighter to raise money to prevent extracurriculars from folding at his school. Pic co-stars Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler.

“Boom” saw a nice bump in tracking Thursday.

Sony also has “Hotel Transylvania” catering to families, entering its third frame after holding steady so far and cuming almost $85 million domestically. Disney’s “Frankenweenie,” at $14.4 million, further crowds the family market in its second outing.

In limited release, Variance Films launches comedy “3,2,1 … Frankie Go Boom” today at 11 Stateside locations. Pic has been available to more than 100 million homes on VOD since Sept. 10.

Sony Pictures Classics expands music docu “Searching for Sugar Man” to 157 locations, with a solid domestic cume of $1.4 million. The distrib also bows Sundance dramedy “Smashed,” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul, at four engagements in New York and L.A.

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