Liam Neeson and his very particular set of skills made quick work of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” as “Taken 3″ captured the top spot at the weekend box office.

The third chapter in the saga of a former government agent who keeps being lured out of retirement by various baddies hellbent on breaking up his nuclear family premiered to $40.4 million across 3,594 theaters. That handily beat tracking, which suggested an opening closer to $30 million.

Neeson’s return to ass-kicking ended “The Hobbit’s” three-week run as domestic ticket sales champ. The Middle Earth finale dropped to fourth place, picking up $9.4 million and bringing its domestic total to $236.5 million.

“Taken 2” kicked off to $49.5 million in 2012, while the original film debuted to $24.7 million in 2009. “Taken 3” was produced by EuropaCorp for $48 million and distributed by Fox. That makes for some muscular profit margins and once again confirms Neeson’s status as this generation’s Charles Bronson.

The weekend’s other heavy hitter, Oscar hopeful “Selma,” earned roughly $11 million, good enough for a second place finish. The Civil Rights drama expanded from 22 to 2,179 theaters this weekend. Distributed by Paramount Pictures, the film has earned more than $13 million since opening on Christmas Day. Paramount has yet to provide estimates, so initial figures come from rival studios.

“Inherent Vice,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s twisty mystery, also saw a hefty expansion, adding more than 600 theaters to its previous count of 16 locations. The film earned $2.9 million over the weekend, pushing its total to $4.5 million.

In third place, Disney’s “Into the Woods” racked up $9.8 million, bringing its stateside haul to $105.3 million.

Another holiday holdover, “Unbroken,” passed the $100 million mark as well, picking up $8.4 million and a fifth place finish. The Universal Pictures release has earned $101.6 million since debuting three weeks ago.

Horror film “Women in Black 2″ plunged 68% in its second weekend in theaters, earning $4.8 million and falling from fourth to eight position. Films in that shocks and scares genre tend to have a steep drop-off and this proved to be no exception.

Among films in the thick of the awards hunt, “Imitation Game” continued to impress, adding $7.6 million to its bounty and capturing sixth place. The biopic about code-breaker Alan Turing has earned more than $40 million since premiering seven weeks ago.

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