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‘Taken 2’ is expected to take box-office honors

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — “Taken 2” will hold its rivals hostage at the box office this weekend as the kidnapping thriller is expected to claim the No. 1 spot at the multiplex.

The action film starring Liam Neeson will probably open with an excellent sum of $45 million to $50 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. But 20th Century Fox, the studio distributing the movie, is projecting a lower but still solid opening of about $35 million.

Behind “Taken 2,” two animated 3-D pictures will battle for the runner-up position. Tim Burton’s stop-motion black-and-white “Frankenweenie” could start off with roughly $20 million in ticket sales, about as much as the similarly monster-themed “Hotel Transylvania” is expected to take in during its second weekend in theaters.

After a robust launch in limited release last weekend, “Pitch Perfect” will expand to theaters nationwide. The a cappella comedy, which grossed $5.1 million from 335 locations during its first three days in theaters, may collect an additional $16 million this weekend.

When it opened in 2009, “Taken” was a surprise hit, taking in a strong $24.7 million during Super Bowl weekend — traditionally a dismal weekend for ticket sales. The film’s French writer and producer, Luc Besson, had not planned for the movie to spawn a franchise. But Fox urged him to reconsider, since the original — in which the Neeson character did battle with bad guys to liberate his kidnapped daughter — ended up collecting $145 million domestically.

The second film, in which Neeson’s former CIA operative is himself kidnapped, was co-financed by Fox and Besson’s Europa Corp. for about $45 million. The first film had a budget of less than $30 million, but the cost of the sequel increased because of a longer production schedule and an increase in pay for Neeson.

Before “Taken,” the 60-year-old Irish actor appeared as a supporting player in a variety of films ranging from “Batman Begins” to “Love Actually.” But since “Taken,” Neeson has emerged as one of Hollywood’s leading action heroes, appearing in the “Clash of the Titans” series, “Unknown” and “The Grey.”

This weekend, “Taken 2” will debut in 28 countries, including China and Britain. So far, the film has opened in South Korea and grossed $6.4 million, already outpacing what the original made in the country three years ago.

“Frankenweenie” was originally a short film Burton made in 1984 about a boy who brings his beloved dog back to life using science — a la Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The writer-director is no stranger to stop-motion animation, having worked on both “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride.” Although “Christmas” did well in 1993, “Bride” collected only a so-so $53.4 million upon its 2005 release. But Burton is coming off a flop; his big-budget live-action flick “Dark Shadows,” starring Johnny Depp, disappointed in theaters in May.

Financed by Walt Disney Pictures for about $39 million, “Frankenweenie” has the strongest reviews of any of the weekend’s wide releases.

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