LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- After three weeks atop the box office, "The Hobbit" has been taken down by Liam Neeson.
"Taken 3" nabbed the top spot at the weekend box office with $40.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. The third installment of the 20th Century Fox thriller series stars Neeson as a vengeance-seeking retired CIA operative with "a very particular set of skills."
The original "Taken," which also features Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen, debuted in 2009 with $24.7 million, while "Taken 2" launched in 2012 with $49.5 million.
"For Neeson to be at this stage in his career and be considered one of the premier action heroes is certainly unexpected, but it's really cool and lucrative," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box-office tracker Rentrak. "I don't think Neeson expected back in '09 that 'Taken' would take off the way it has. It's really enhanced his box-office appeal."
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" slid to fourth place with $9.4 million following three straight weeks in first place. The total domestic take for filmmaker Peter Jackson's Middle-earth finale now stands at $236.5 million.
"Into the Woods" milked $9.7 million in third place in its third week at the box office, bringing the total haul of Disney's Broadway musical adaptation to $105.3 million.
With the Golden Globes kicking off Sunday night and Academy Awards nominations looming Thursday morning, several trophy seekers expanded into more theaters this weekend.
Paramount's civil rights drama "Selma" moved from 22 to 2,179 theaters, arriving in second place at the weekend box office with $11.2 million. The film chronicles the historic 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and stars David Oyelowo as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"With the Globes tonight, no matter what happens, there's nothing better than having your clips running and people having conversations about your movie because it creates a big awareness," said Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of worldwide distribution. "Then, we have Martin Luther King weekend next weekend. I think we're in great shape to just play and play and play."
Other possible awards-season hopefuls that moved into more theaters this weekend included the Louis Zamperini biopic "Unbroken," the Alan Turing biopic "The Imitation Game" and filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson's trippy mystery "Inherent Vice."
"There are a lot of titles out there in the mix," Dergarabedian said. "It's all about timing with these awards-season contenders. With the Globes tonight and the Academy Award nominations Thursday, it's no accident they're expanding. It's completely calculated, but it's sort of anyone's game to win because there are so many great contenders."
"American Sniper," which stars Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, bagged $555,000 from just four theaters. Warner Bros. plans to greatly expand the war drama's scope on Friday.
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'Taken 3' topples 'Hobbit' reign at box office