LOS ANGELES -- Critics don’t like "Taken 2," but Liam Neeson’s action sequel has proved twice the hit among fans as the original movie was.
"Taken 2" led the box office with $50 million domestically over opening weekend. That’s double the haul for Neeson’s "Taken," which took in $24.7 million in its U.S. debut in early 2009.
"Taken" went on to become a $145 million smash for Neeson, the Academy Award-nominated star of "Schind ler’s List" who has become an unlikely action hero in his 50s.
In "Taken 2," Neeson re turns as a retired CIA agent using his expert espionage and killing skills to take on a gang of thugs out for revenge against him and his family.
"He gives hope to aging men," said Paul Dergara bedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "He’s done the reverse of most actors, where you do the action stuff when you’re younger then do the more introspective work when you’re older. He’s sort of turned it around. When he’s 80, he’ll probably be kicking even more butt."
The previous weekend’s No. 1 movie at the U.S. box office, Adam Sandler’s animated hit "Hotel Transylvania," dropped to second-place with $26.3 million. The Sony release raised its domestic total to $76
Expanding into nationwide release after a limited debut a week earlier, Universal’s music tale "Pitch Perfect" moved up to third-place with $14.
Sony’s sci-fi thriller "Looper," starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, fell from second-place to fourth with $12.2 million, lifting its domestic haul to $40.3 million.
Tim Burton’s animated monster tale "Franken weenie" had a slow start, taking in $11.5 million to round out the top-five. The Disney release is an update of Burton’s 1984 live-action short film, about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life.
Disney is counting on good reviews and positive audience reaction to keep "Franken weenie" afloat through Hallo ween and beyond.
"The movie itself is going to be its best selling tool," said Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of distribution. "You have people coming out of the theaters, they’ve had a great experience, and they’re telling their friends."
Released by 20th Century Fox, "Taken 2" gave a big boost to Hollywood revenues, which have lagged most weekends since late summer. Domestic business totaled $138 million, up 45.5 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Real Steel" led with $27.3 million.
While the first movie got respectable reviews, "Taken 2" was panned by critics as a replay of the original. Audiences rarely care what critics say, though.
"Most people go to the movies for a certain dose of escapism," said Chris Aron son, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox. "It doesn’t have to be high art. It doesn’t have to be serious and contemplative. They go to the movies to be entertained, and my gosh, that’s what this movie does."