Liam Neeson in a scene from "Taken 2"
(USA TODAY) -- Despite being encircled by harsh critics, moviegoers snatched Taken 2 and propelled it to an easy win at the box office that few analysts expected to be so decisive.
The Liam Neeson sequel did $50 million, according to studio estimates from Hollywood.com.
Analysts expected the follow-up to the 2008 French thriller to debut around $38 million, limited by tough reviews. According to survey site Rottentomatoes.com, just 20% of critics recommended the movie.
But 76% of moviegoers gave it a thumbs-up, the site says, and the movie enjoyed a sizable debut compared with the original, which opened to $24.7 million. The movie would ultimately collect $145 million and make Neeson one of the industry's more bankable action stars.
Neeson worked overtime on the talk-show circuit to sell the film, which had a canny ad campaign reminding moviegoers of the first movie, a $22 million film not expected to warrant a sequel.
Gitesh Pandya of Boxofficeguru.com says the second benefited from the original's long run in theaters and its healthy life on home video. He says fan interest has been keen, "especially those who didn't come out in the first weekend but were sold on the movie later."
The animated comedy Hotel Transylvania took second with $26.3 million, followed by the musical hit Pitch Perfect with $14.7 million.
The sci-fi thriller Looper took fourth with $12.2 million, bringing its two-week total to $40.3 million.
The cartoon Frankenweenie rounded out the top five with $11.5 million. Analysts anticipated at least $15 million from the Tim Burton movie.
Final figures are expected Monday.
Taken 2's strong bow gave a lift to the box office, which has seen ticket sales increase 3% over last year, Hollywood.com says.