By Joshua Rich
February 02, 2009 at 04:30 PM EST

With an unexpectedly big gross of $24.6 million, according to Sunday’s early estimates, Liam Neeson’s kidnapping thriller Taken was the easy victor at the box office on this Super Bowl weekend.

That’s a particularly impressive feat for a male-baiting film whose key audience has had plenty of distractions during this national football holiday frame. To be sure, the movie drew an A- CinemaScore review from a crowd that was nearly three-fifths men and 70 percent over the age of 25 — an almost exact mirror of the big game’s core demographic. For Neeson, who hasn’t starred in a major Hollywood release since 2005’s Batman Begins and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (to which he lent his voice), this is a nice turn of events, indeed: The $24.6 mil premiere is the fifth best of his career, and, really, the top debut ever for a flick featuring him as a solo lead star.

Certainly, Taken‘s weekend sum could decrease slightly after the Super Bowl is played tonight and the actual final Friday-to-Sunday box office figures are calculated, but the film has no chance of falling out of first place. That’s because its next closest competitor was two-time champ Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which brought in $14 mil and fell to No. 2. With $83.4 mil in the bank to date, the Kevin James comedy is basically assured of becoming the first 2009 release to gross $100 mil.

The Uninvited (No. 3) was next, with a decent $10.5 mil — exactly the kind of first-weekend number that all Asian horror remakes seem to get these days. Hotel for Dogs (No. 4 with $8.7 mil) and Gran Torino (No. 5 with $8.6 mil) rounded out the top five. (At $110.5 mil and counting, Gran Torino is now the top-grossing movie of Clint Eastwood’s career.) And the other big new release, the Renee Zellweger comedy New in Town — the kind of female-friendly counterprogramming that studio bigwigs typically expect to do well on weekends like this — got little love at No. 8, earning just $6.8 mil.

Among Best Picture nominees, Slumdog Millionaire once again fared best, banking $7.7 mil at No. 6, while all the others fell outside of the top 10 (i.e. they all banked less than about $3.7 mil a piece). That result is a tad disappointing for The Reader and Milk, as both movies expanded somewhat wide this weekend (they grossed $2.4 mil and $1.4 mil, respectively).

Overall, the cumulative box office was essentially flat with the same frame a year ago, when the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus concert film came out of nowhere to be the big winner. Just like the Arizona Cardinals will do tonight.

More Box Office News:

Box Office Preview: Taken vs. The Super Bowl’s Box Office Chart
Paul Blart edges out Underworld 3 to win the weekend

Paul Blart: Mall Cop wins the weekend
Gran Torino drives away with a win

addCredit(“Stephanie Branchu”)