Box Office Preview: 'Argo' Will Battle 'Taken 2' for Weekend Crown

 

Ben Affleck's awards darling Argo opens at the North American box office Friday, hoping to spin its resounding critical acclaim into commercial success. Affleck directed and stars in the movie.

Argo has a shot at crossing $20 million in its debut and beating Taken 2 for the weekend, though anything beyond $15 million would be considered a good start by Warner Bros., considering the film should have a long run as awards season continues to heat up.

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Based on the true story of the rescue of six Americans hiding out at the Canadian Embassy during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, Argo also stars Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. The film chronicles how the Americans were able to escape Iran after the CIA and specialist Tony Mendez staged a fake movie production as a cover.

Argo is Affleck's third directing effort and is getting the widest release of the bunch (3,232 theaters). The Town debuted to $23.8 million in September 2011 on its way to grossing a strong $154 million worldwide (Town had the advantage of being a genre pic). Although Gone Baby Gone topped out at $34.6 million worldwide in 2007, it was considered a modest hit and a promising start for Affleck's career behind the camera.

The new movie's producers include George Clooney and GK Films.

Argo could have a tough time knocking Taken 2 from the top spot. The pic, from 20th Century Fox and EuropaCorp, could earn in the low-$20 million range in its second weekend, pushing its domestic cume north of $80 million.

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Prospects for the weekend's other new entries are mixed. The Kevin James family comedy Here Comes the Boom and microbudgeted supernatural horror pic Sinister and are tracking to gross in the $10 million to $15 million range.

Here Comes the Boom, from Sony and opening in north of 3,000 theaters, stars James as a biology teacher at a failing public high school who takes up mixed martial arts in order to save the school. The comedy, which has been soft in tracking, also stars Salma Hayek.

Sinister, distributed by Lionsgate and rolling out in 2,527 locations, only cost $3 million to make and hopes to profit from pre-Halloween attention. It was produced by Jason Blum, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones' Automatik and director-writer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose). It stars Ethan Hawke as a true-crime writer whose family is plunged into danger after he finds a box of gruesome home movies.

If it works, Sinister would mark another victory for Blum, a producer on the blockbuster Paranormal Activity franchise, as well as Automatik, a joint production venture between IM Global and Alliance. Automatic and Blum also teamed on Insidious.

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Sinister could end up competing to some degree with CBS Films' Seven Psychopaths, which also opens Friday. A festival favorite, the dark comedy stars Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken and Abbie Cornish.

Box-office observers are expecting Seven Psychopaths to open in the $5 million to $7 million range, noting that it is only bowing in 1,475 locations.

That's the same theater count for the weekend's fourth nationwide release, Atlas Shrugged: Part II. The film, based on Ayn Rand's novel, hopes to galvanize conservatives in the weeks leading up to the presidential election and piggyback on the box-office success of the anti-Barack Obama documentary 2016: Obama's America.

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 enjoyed a promising opening in April 2011 but ended up only grossing $4.6 million.

Among specialty titles, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, makes a major expansion this weekend, upping its theater count from 221 to about 725. The film from Summit Entertainment has grossed $3.8 million to date.

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