On the busiest weekend so far this Fall, five new nationwide releases will battle to see who can take the largest chunk of the box office pie, though first place will likely go to Taken 2 again. Argo and Sinister seem to be in the best position right now, while Here Comes the Boom will attempt to get in a few hits at over 3,000 locations. Seven Psychopaths and Atlas Shrugged: Part II are receiving much more modest releases and will both open outside of the Top Five.
Debuting at 3,232 theaters, Argo is the third movie directed by Ben Affleck, who has experienced a well-documented career resurgence thanks to his work behind the camera. In 2007, Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was a modest box office performer with $20 million, though it received great reviews (94 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and built up a strong post-theatrical following. As a result, Affleck was able to make Boston-set crime drama The Town, which opened to a solid $23.8 million on its way to a very good $92.2 million total. The movie also received great reviews (94 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and is well-regarded with movie fans (7.6 rating on IMDb).
Similar to The Town, Argo has Affleck playing double duty as both director and actor. Advertisements emphasize the connection to The Town, though on the surface the two movies are very different. While The Town is set in the widely-appealing world of Boston crime, Argo is a period thriller that splits its time between the halls of the CIA, the backlots of Hollywood, and the streets of post-revolution Iran. The Middle East setting in particular is troublesome: while the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya makes Argo more timely, it also prevents the movie from appearing as the kind of escapist entertainment audiences are looking for when they head to the movies.
Going strictly based on the great reviews (91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and hefty Internet buzz, the setting and time period doesn't seem to be a huge issue. But those factors can't necessarily be trusted. As strange as this may sound, a good comparison is October 2010's The Social Network. Both movies are well-reviewed, come from an acclaimed director, and were receiving tons of awards buzz ahead of their release. Also, each movie is about something near-and-dear to the hearts of movie bloggers: in The Social Network's case, it's entrepreneurship on the Internet, and in Argo's case it's the movie industry. Therefore, online anticipation doesn't necessarily align with that of mainstream moviegoers. The Social Network ultimately opened to a fine $22.4 million on its way to $96.7 million—if Argo winds up at the same levels (also similar to The Town's figures) it will be in very good shape.
Low-budget horror movie Sinister seemingly come out of nowhere to also be a contender at this weekend's box office. Sinister has all the trappings of a strong horror movie entry: it's got the haunted house, the home movies, and an insanely scary marketing campaign. It's also been building buzz via targeted screenings like one at South by Southwest, which has helped get the message out to genre fans. It's really the only horror movie in the marketplace this weekend, and it seems to have avoided being overshadowed by Paranormal Activity 4's upcoming debut. Sinister's R rating is going to keep it from popping to the level of director Scott Derrickson's The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30 million), though Insidious's $13.3 million start seems like the low point this weekend.