Awards season may have its popular favorite.
Ben Affleck's Argo opened with a bigger-than-expected $20.1 million Friday-Sunday, per estimates.
The Liam Neeson holdover, Taken 2, held on for a second straight weekend box-office win, with $22.5 million, while the new Kevin James comedy, Here Comes the Boom, failed to blow up, debuting in fifth place, with $12 million, a career-worst opening for the former sitcom star.
Argo is Affleck's biggest opener, for an Affleck-led, he's-the-only-face-on-the-poster film, since before his acting career imploded, going back to 2003's Daredevil.
Among the star's three directing efforts, its his second-biggest debut, after the ensemble crime caper, The Town.
Perhaps most signficantly, Argo, a thriller about the Iranian-hostage crisis, which was graded an A-plus by opening-weekend audiences, is now positioned as that increasingly rare creature: an Oscar contender that real people actually want to see. Last year, of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, only one, The Help, generated a $20 million-plus opening weekend.
Elsewhere, the new horror movie, Sinister, with Ethan Hawke, got off to fast start typical of new horror movies. But while it led the Friday box office, it fell back—in polling, audiences gave it a discouraging C-plus—and ended up in third place for the weekend with $18.3 million. All in all, a big take for a little film that reportedly cost $3 million.
The festival favorite, Seven Psychopaths, with Colin Farrell, couldn't break through. The reputedly $15 million R-rated comedy opened to just $4.3 million.
Moviegoers who were into Atlas Shrugged: Part I seemed self-determined to show up for the just-released Part II. The two Ayn Rand films opened with nearly identical takes of $1.7 million.
The Aaron Paul indie drinking drama Smashed did OK in limited release, grossing $30,025 at four theaters.
Clint Eastwood's The Trouble With the Curve was among the films exiting the Top 10. After four weekends, the baseball drama is at $32.7 million overall domestically, a long way from Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, but an improvement on Blood Work and True Crime.
Paul Thomas Anderson's love-it-can't-understand-it The Master also fell out of the Top 10, for now. The Best Picture hopeful has grossed about $14 million.
Here's a complete look at the weekend's top movies, per Friday-Sunday domestic estimates as reported by the studios and Exhibitor Relations: