Thriller "Taken" snatches box office crown

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Thriller “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson as a former spy who must rescue his daughter from modern-day slave traders, snatched the No. 1 spot at North American box offices over the weekend, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

Liam Neeson poses at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

“Taken” grabbed $24.6 million in just under 3,200 theaters, for an average of about $7,700 per theater, and it played to a mix of men and women, said a spokesman for its distributor, 20th Century Fox. Fox is a unit of News Corp..

With the media’s spotlight on professional football’s Super Bowl, overall weekend ticket sales of $103 million for the top 12 films were off 20 percent from the last weekend, and only slightly ahead of the same weekend last year, according to box office tracker Media by Numbers.

Still, January proved to be a record month in theaters with a total box office haul of more than $1 billion for the first time ever, said Media by Numbers president Paul Dergarabedian.

One big reason has been the surprise success of Columbia Pictures’ comedy “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” which slipped to the No. 2 spot after two straight weeks at No. 1. The movie starring comic actor Kevin James took in $14 million over the weekend, boosting its three-week total to $83.4 million.

Columbia Pictures said “Paul Blart” was well on its way to passing the $100 million mark at box offices as it continues to play well to audiences looking for laughter. Columbia is a unit of Sony Corp’s Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Landing in the No. 3 spot was the new supernatural thriller “The Uninvited” with $10.5 million. It was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc..

The other fresh entry in theaters was romantic comedy “New In Town” starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. But it failed to ignite much of a flame with movie fans, coming in at No. 8 with only $6.8 million. It was released by Lionsgate Entertainment.

Other notable movies were Paramount comedy “Hotel for Dogs,” which finished in the fourth spot with $8.7 million, and Clint Eastwood’s popular “Gran Torino,” which was No. 5 with $8.6 million to push its cumulative total to $110.5 million.

Finally, Oscar hopeful “Slumdog Millionaire,” whose director Danny Boyle won the best film award from the Directors Guild of America on Saturday night, added more than 200 theaters over the weekend and raked in $7.7 million to push its overall ticket sales above $67 million.

“Gran Torino” was released by Warner Bros., the studio wing of Time Warner Inc., and “Slumdog Millionaire” came from the Fox Searchlight division of News Corp..

Editing by Anthony Boadle