SUNDAY AM,  3RD UPDATE: This was a slammin’ weekend at the domestic box office turning around 6 weeks of sluggish grosses – with total moviegoing up +41% from last year. Here’s one reason why: I’ve learned that 20th Century Fox’s Taken 2 (3,660 theaters) is the first film that has performed normally for weekend late night shows since July’s Aurora shooting tragedy in a movie theater. “Great news for our film and great news for our industry as hopefully we can get back to some normalcy at the box office,” one Fox exec emails me. Action sequel starring Liam Neeson hit $50M despite Fox attempts to lowball expectations at around mid-$30sM. It’s now the 2nd biggest October opening weekend record (behind Paranormal Activity 3‘s $52.6M) but also the highest PG13 opener in October ever. ”Bryan Mills continues to have a ‘particular set of skills’ – namely kicking ass at the box office!” the exec gushed. On the other hand, Tim Burton’s flat 5th place Frankenweenie (3,005 theaters) got off to a “slower start than we would have hoped,” one Disney exec admitted to me, and never took flight. Audiences gave both newcomers a ‘B+’ CinemaScore which could help word of mouth. Meanwhile, Sony Animation’s Hotel Transylvania (3,352 theaters) mantained an amazing -36% hold from last Friday for #2. Universal’s small female college comedy Pitch Perfect (2,770 theaters) went wider and wound up with a new cume of $21.5M against its cost of only $17M. Meanwhile, with Columbus Day on Monday, total Sunday moviegoing should be bigger than normal.

Box OfficeThe original Taken seemed an improbable hit: Liam Neeson wasn’t hot at the box office, director Pierre Morel came out of nowhere, and the action took place in ho-hum Paris for crissakes. But this sleeper didn’t suffer from political correctness. Instead it presented good vs evil as black and white without any grey area – something missing from films with more sophisticated storylines. Audiences responded to this uncomplicated thriller in droves for $145M domestic and $226.8M worldwide. Now they’re looking for more of the same in the sequel, and Taken 2 did an impressive $1.5M in midnight showings from 2,036 locations for the highest midnight number since The Dark Knight Rises. This time the director is Olivier Megaton, and the setting is far more mysterious Istanbul. Written again by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen, returning daughter Maggie Grace and wife Famke Janssen re-joins Neeson and this time together they fight bad guys. And, once again, Fox for both this movie and the first one pays a flat fee to Europa Corp for certain territories upon delivery. Otherwise Fox has all the world, excluding Eastern Europe, Middle East, Germany, France, Benelux and Scandinavia. Taken 2 already opened in Korea to an outstanding #1 on its opening day and unseated a blockbuster Korean film, Masquerade, distributed by CJ. The marketing campaign was pretty straightforward and fairly ordinary, relying heavily on Neeson who truly did anything and everything to promote the sequel. A fan event in New York at the AMC Empire on Monday sold out 2 theaters in under 90 minutes from launch on Eventful. It’s hard to find any TV show that Neeson didn’t do from Jim Rome, Leno, GMA, Live With Kelly, Ellen, Fallon, Daily Show, Watch What Happens Live, ESPN Carwash, and Inside The Actor’s Studio. ”Taken Tuesdays” on Facebook added new content every week. The Ultimate Fighters did sponsorships supporting the film through a high-profile match and fight clock branding, while Bellator Fighting Championship had sponsorship of the 2-hour largest Mixed Martial Arts tournament in the world.

Box OfficeHere we go again: another Tim Burton film that is underperforming at the domestic box office. This time he returns to his first stop-motion animation movie since 2005 when his Warner Bros’ toon Corpse Bride debuted DOA. But this 3D black-and-white film about a boy and his dog for Disney looks like a lot more fun, thanks to the screenplay credited to John August (who based his on Lenny Ripps’ script) and story and direction by Burton. Though it faces stiff competition from Sony Animation’s pre-Halloween family fare Hotel Transylvania. But Frankenweenie was never intended as widely popular family fare: it’s fanboy stuff. Which is why pic had such strong presence at Comic-Con. “The Art of Frankenweenie” exhibit began there and is touring Disney’s California Adventure before it travels to 7 countries. The film itself won’t roll out in most international territories until the next six months. Back at home, Frankenweenie integrated with Halloween events at Disney Parks. The world premiere was held September 20th on the opening night of Fantastic Fest, followed by an LA premiere September 24th at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre. Film was also the closing night film at the London Film Festival. Disney also had what it called “unparalleled partnership” with Apple to launch first-ever Disney Publishing digital book to use iBooks Author based on a film. (The e-book allows audiences to delve into the inspiration behind the film, from story concept to creation and execution, with photos, art, interviews, music, 3D characters, and more.) Games, apps, social media, IMAX, Subway in-store signage added to the marketing campaign which included a heavy rotation of TV ads – much bigger than the box office prospects of this Burton film warranted. Disney also pushed the official film soundtrack by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, plus “Frankenweenie Unleashed” inspired-by album. Voice talent included Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, and Winona Ryder. Besides Burton, Allison Abbate produced.

Here’s how my sources see the Top Ten for weekend box office:

1. Taken 2 (Fox) NEW [3,661 Runs] PG13
Friday $18.5M, Saturday $19.0M, Weekend $50.0M

2. Hotel Transylvania 3D (Sony Animation) Week 2 [3,352 Runs] PG
Friday $6.4M, Saturday $11.7M, Weekend $27.1M (-36%), Cume $76.8M

3. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 2 [2,770 Runs] PG13
Friday $4.8M, Saturday $5.9M, Weekend $14.6M, Cume $21.5M

4. Looper (FilmDistrict/Sony) Week 2 [2,993 Runs] R
Friday $3.5M, Saturday $5.1M, Weekend $12.0M (-42%), Cume $40.1M

5. Frankenweenie 3D (Disney) NEW [3,005 Runs] PG
Friday $3.2M, Saturday $4.5M, Weekend $11.1M

6. End Of Watch (Open Road) Week 3 [2,370 Runs] R
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $32.7M

7. Trouble with the Curve (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,003 Runs] PG13
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $29.7M

8. House At End Of Street (Relativity) Week 3 [2,720 Runs] PG13
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.7M, Cume $27.6M

9. The Master (Weinstein) Week 4 [864 Runs] R
Friday $498K, Saturday $839K, Weekend $1.8M, Cume $12.3M

10. Finding Nemo 3D (Disney) Week 4 [1,746 Runs] G
Friday $366K, Saturday $690K, Weekend $1.5M, Cume $39.0M

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

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