Hotel Transylvania and Looper teamed up to end September on a high note, and that positive trend will continue in the first weekend of October thanks to the debut of highly-anticipated action sequel Taken 2. Frankenweenie should also make a solid contribution, though it faces stiff competition from Hotel Transylvania, while Pitch Perfect expands nationwide after a great start in limited release. Overall business will undoubtedly wind up significantly ahead of the same frame last year when the domestic box office generated $95.1 million.
Taken 2 opens in 3,661 locations this weekend, which is the second-widest release ever for a live-action movie in October (behind Where the Wild Things Are). The first Taken is one of the biggest box office surprises in recent years: after debuting to a solid $24.7 million over Super Bowl weekend in 2009, the movie held extremely well and ended its run with an incredible $145 million. While the movie has its detractors, it clearly resonated with a large portion of the movie-going population, and it remains extremely popular over three years later (it has a very good 7.9 rating on IMDb).
Since Taken, star Liam Neeson has leveraged his new action-star credentials in to plenty of roles, including a few high-profile supporting parts (Clash and Wrath of the Titans, Battleship) along with solo outings in Unknown and The Grey. Those two movies opened to $21.8 million and $19.7 million, and didn't hold up nearly as well as Taken.
Audiences will definitely turn out in much greater numbers for Taken 2, though. While the marketing lacks a show-stopper like the "unique set of skills" phone call from the first movie, it does extensively feature the combination of ass-kicking action and threatening monologues that people associate with Taken. Also, the change of location from Paris to Istanbul helps differentiate the two movies a bit, even though the story (Eurotrash kidnaps a member of Neeson's family) is basically a rehash.
From a forecasting perspective, the perfect comparison might be The Hangover Part II (stay with me here, kids). Both Taken and The Hangover are movies that came out of nowhere to earn tons of money, and both held extremely well following opening weekend, which only accounts for 16 percent of Hangover's total and 17 percent of Taken's total. For both sequels, the characters and central premise remain the same, while the setting noticeably changes. If Taken 2 performs similarly to The Hangover Part II, it could top Paranormal Activity 3's $52.6 million to claim a new October opening weekend record (distributor 20th Century Fox is predicting a debut in the more modest mid-$30 million range).
It's worth noting that Taken 2 is receiving some truly god-awful reviews, and as of Thursday afternoon it had a terrible 16 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That won't put a huge damper on opening weekend but it does mean that, similar to The Hangover Part II, it will likely be incredibly front-loaded and fail to match its predecessor's total.
At 3,005 locations, Frankenweenie marks director Tim Burton's first stop-motion animated movie since 2005's Corpse Bride. The movie is based off a short film Burton made in the early 1980s before his feature-length directing career took off, and feels more like a vintage Burton project along the lines of Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands than recent work like Dark Shadows or Alice in Wonderland. As a result, Burton die-hards will likely make it a priority to see the movie this weekend.
Unfortunately, it's going to be tricky to attract family audiences in large numbers. Stop-motion animated movies have a pretty low ceiling on opening weekend: Corpse Bride holds the record with $19.2 million, while recent entries ParaNorman ($14.1 million) and The Pirates! Band of Misfits ($11.1 million) were middling in their debuts. More importantly, though, Frankenweenie faces direct competition from Hotel Transylvania, which had a surprisingly-high opening and is guaranteed to earn over $20 million this weekend. It's hard to imagine many family audiences choosing the black-and-white stop-motion Frankenweenie over the vibrant, action-packed Hotel Transylvania, so expect Frankenweenie to wind up in third place.
Pitch Perfect scored an impressive $5.15 million from just 335 locations last weekend, and is set to expand in to 2,770 venues on Friday. This unique release pattern is likely going to pay dividends for Universal Pictures—the movie earned an "A" CinemaScore last weekend ("A+" among the core younger female demographic), and word-of-mouth is strong. In December, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol employed a similar strategy and more than doubled its limited opening when it expanded nationwide. A similar result would put Pitch Perfect at over $12 million this weekend.
Forecast (Oct. 5-7)
1. Taken 2 - $49 million
2. Hotel Transylvania - $24.7 million (-42%)
3. Frankenweenie - $17.1 million
4. Pitch Perfect - $13.1 million
5. Looper - $12.5 million (-40%)
Bar for Success
Taken 2 needs to substantially improve on Taken's $24.7 million debut—$35 million is the absolutely lowest it can open and get a pass. Frankenweenie is fine at $15 million, while Pitch Perfect is okay at $10 million.