"Taken 2" led the box office with $50 million domestically over opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. 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 "Schindler's List" who has become an unlikely action hero in his 50s.
In "Taken 2," Neeson returns 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 Dergarabedian, 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."
"Taken 2," which began rolling out overseas a weekend earlier, added $55 million more in about 50 international markets to raise its worldwide total to $117 million.
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 million, and it has taken in $29.3 million overseas for a worldwide haul of $105.3 million.
Expanding into nationwide release after a limited debut a week earlier, Universal's music tale "Pitch Perfect" moved up to third-place with $14.7 million. The movie stars Anna Kendrick as a college freshman spicing things up for her a cappella singing squad.
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 "Frankenweenie" 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.
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 Aronson, 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."
"Frankenweenie" had a modest debut compared to Burton's last animated feature, "Corpse Bride," which took in $19.1 million in its first weekend of wide release in 2005. Both films were made through stop-motion animation, using puppets moved incrementally and photographed a frame at a time.
"Corpse Bride" had the advantage of Burton's superstar pal Johnny Depp leading the voice cast. And "Frankenweenie" was a tough sell both for its stop-motion style, which is far less popular than the computer-generated look of today's animation blockbusters, and for its black-and-white presentation, done in homage to classic monster movies.
"Frankenweenie" also faced stiff competition from Sandler's animated monster mash-up "Hotel Transylvania."
But with a budget of $39 million, "Frankenweenie" cost far less to produce than computer-animated films, whose price-tags can run to $150 million or more.
Disney is counting on good reviews and positive audience reaction to keep "Frankenweenie" afloat through Halloween 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."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Taken 2," $50 million ($55 million international).
2. "Hotel Transylvania," $26.3 million ($13.1 million international).
3. "Pitch Perfect," $14.7 million.
4. "Looper," $12.2 million.
5. "Frankenweenie," $11.5 million.
6. "End of Watch," $4 million.
7. "Trouble with the Curve," $3.9 million.
8. "House at the End of the Street," $3.7 million.
9. "The Master," $1.8 million.
10. "Finding Nemo," $1.6 million ($600,000 international).
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.