Ah, blessed autumn: that strange season when adults are allowed to pay their way into movie theaters, and occasionally find films they like. Geezer pleasers flooded the multiplexes, topped by two dramas — both made for $45 million and shot partly in Istanbul — about attempts to rescue Americans taken hostage abroad. Taken 2, with Liam Neeson fighting an Albanian gang of kidnappers, won the weekend at North American theaters with $22.5 million, according to preliminary studio estimates.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Taken 2)
That’s a steep drop from the opening-weekend take of $49.5 million, but still enough to top Argo, Ben Affleck’s critically pampered true-life drama about a CIA scheme to spirit six Americans out of the Canadian embassy shortly after the 1979 Iran uprising against the Shah. Argo earned $20.1 million — a bit less than the $23.8-million opening weekend for The Town, also starring and directed by Affleck. Still, it’s a fine start for a film designed not to grab all its cash the first few days but to settle in for the long run, from now through the awards season, where it’s sure to be an important contender.
(READ: Joel Stein’s profile of Ben Affleck by subscribing to TIME)
Hints of Argo’s staying power come from both its rapturous A-plus rating in the CinemaScore poll of early attendees and the film’s mature demographic: its initial audience was 54% female (they’ll tell their friends) and 74% over the age of 35 (they tend not to rush to a picture the first weekend). The first-weekend viewers for Taken 2, by comparison, were 64% over 25, which by Hollywood standards is old but not decrepit. Because Argo replays a historical event that tok place more than 30 years ago — though the real story of the “Canadian caper” was not publicly known until the 1990s — Affleck can expect many walk-ins on walkers for the weekday matinees. Maybe they’ll bring their grandkids, as a reminder of the distant past when CIA operatives could be considered heroes.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Seven Psychopaths)
Then again, Seven Psychopaths played like The Avengers (with crazy people), compared with Atlas Shrugged: Part II. This middle episode of the planned film trilogy from Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel might have been expected to benefit from Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan fervent espousal of the book (recently muted) and the prescient analogies to one-percenters and Occupy Wall Street. But audiences greeted Shrugged 2 with an “eh”: $1.7 million on 1,012 screens. (Shrugged 1 earned the same amount when it opened in April 2011 at just 299 venues.) Paging another national candidate, the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, to get the Objectivist faithful — if that’s not an oxymoron — into theaters.
(READ: Alex Altman on the man behind the Atlas Shrugged movies)
With adult films planted on many screens, kids went back to Hotel Transylvania, the Adam Sandler-starring animated comedy, which passed the $100-million mark on its third weekend. By the end of week three, Transylvania will have earned more at the domestic box office than Sandler’s last two films, Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy, combined. Sandler’s pal Kevin James aimed for the all-important eight-to-12 demographic with Here Comes the Boom. It should have been called There Goes the Bust, because it took in just $12 million — by far the lowest debut for a James comedy since the 2009 Paul Blart: Mall Cop ($31.9 million opening, $145.3 million total domestic gross) made him a star. Salve for the King of Queens’ wounds: the kids polled by CinemaScore gave the movie an “A.”
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Hotel Transylvania)
For “real” movie scares (another oxymoron), youngsters queued for Sinister, a horror film that earned $18.25 million on a pinchpenny $3-million budget. The movie will soon be replaced in the dark hearts of teens by Paranormal Activity 4, next weekend’s entry in the pre-Halloween parade. How do we know? Sinister received a dolorous C-plus CinemaScore. On the bell curve of that polling company’s ratings, a C-plus is not a test sample, it’s a posse.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Sinister)
Down in Indieville, the semi-arty mainstream product (Argo, Seven Psychopaths) sucked the audiences away from new upmarket fare. The alky drama Smashed took in a meager $30,000 at four houses; the Afro-aimed Middle of Nowhere did better, with $78,000 in six theaters. In wider release, The Master is leveling off as it approaches $14 million in its fifth week. But the Paul Thomas Anderson drama will surely be back for an Oscar-season reboot — like Argo, and unlike Taken 2.
(READ: Mary Pols’ profile of Smashed star Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Taken 2, $22.5 million; $86.8 million, second week
2. Argo, $20.1 million, first weekend
3. Sinister, $18.25 million, first weekend
4. Hotel Transylvania, $17.3 million; $102.2 million, third weekend
5. Here Comes the Boom, $12 million, first weekend
6. Pitch Perfect, $9.3 million; $36.1 million, third weekend
7. Frankenweenie, $7 million; $22 million, second week
8. Looper, $6.3 million; $51.4 million, third week
9. Seven Psychopaths, $4.3 million, first weekend
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, $2.2 million; $6.2 million, fourth week