Box office: Liam Neeson has 'Taken' the top spot from 'Hobbit'

Box office: Liam Neeson has 'Taken' the top spot from 'Hobbit'
The Liam Neeson action flick "Taken 3" looks like it will beat expectations at the box office, hauling in somewhere between $35 million and $37 million over its opening weekend, according to projections. (Sam Urdank / 20th Century Fox)

The final installment of Liam Neeson's covert operative series, "Taken 3," grossed an estimated $14.7 million from 3,954 movie screens on Friday — for a projected weekend total that will probably top $35 million, well above initial projections of $30 million. All of this despite the fact that the film was not exactly hailed by critics.

The healthy opening puts the thriller ahead of Universal's "Lone Survivor," which opened with $14.4 million during this same time period last year and just behind Paramount's "The Devil Inside," which took in $16.8 million in the same weekend in 2012. 

"Taken 3" cost about $48 million to make and was financed by French writer-producer Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It took over the top spot from Warner Bros.' "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," which ended a three-week run at No. 1.

In second place Friday night was director Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King biopic "Selma," which opened in 2,179 theaters and earned a respectable $3.8 million. The film was financed by Pathe/Harpo Films and distributed by Paramount. Last month, the film received four nominations for Sunday's Golden Globes, which could help support its continued box-office march.

Also in the top five was Universal's "Unbroken," which grossed $2.6 million on 3,301 screens, followed in a virtual tie by Buena Vista's "Into the Woods," which is playing on 2,833 screens, and "The Hobbit," both with about $2.5 million.

Twitter: @cmonstah