LOS ANGELES -- Liam Neeson's "Taken 2" has defended its box-office title with a narrow win over Ben Affleck's "Argo."
Studio estimates put 20th Century Fox's action sequel "Taken 2" at No. 1 with $22.5 million in its second weekend. "Taken 2" raised its domestic total to $86.8 million.
Affleck's "Argo," an Iranian hostage thriller from Warner Bros., opened in second-place with $20.1 million.
Ethan Hawke's "Sinister," about a true-crime writer caught up in supernatural horror, debuted at No. 3 with $18.3 million.
Sony's "Here Comes the Boom," with Kevin James as a teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts sensation, started weakly at No. 5 with $12 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, CBS Films' crime comedy "Seven Psychopaths," also opened to small crowds, taking in $4.3 million to finish at No. 9.
The follow-up to "Taken," the hit that established dramatic star Neeson as an action hero, "Taken 2" was dinged by critics who called it a replay of the original. The sequel has Neeson's ex-CIA guy up against a gang of Albanian goons out for revenge for their kin that he killed in the first movie.
"It kind of proves that reviews do not matter," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "Audiences just continue to eat this up. They just love Liam Neeson in this role.
"Argo" may prove the opposite, using its great reviews and Academy Awards buzz to settle in for a long stay at the box office. Affleck directed and starred in the real-life story about a CIA operative who concocts a plan to rescue six Americans hiding in Tehran after the 1979 U.S. embassy takeover by disguising them as members of a fake movie crew.
Revenues on the film ticked up a whopping 47 percent from opening day Friday to Saturday, a sign that audiences were talking it up exuberantly to friends.
"This is a really good indication of how quickly word of mouth can spread," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros. "The critical acclaim in this case is going to translate into commercial
Overall domestic revenues came in at $132 million, up 51 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Real Steel" led with $16.3 million.