Liam Neeson's character is looking for a gang of kidnappers
Liam Neeson thriller Taken has ended the reign of comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop at the top of the North American box office chart.
The CIA thriller made $24.6m (£17.3m) in its debut weekend, helping towards $1bn January takings for the first time in US cinema history.
Other new entries included The Uninvited, a remake of a South Korean thriller, at number three.
British Oscar hope Slumdog Millionaire was in sixth place.
The Mumbai-based film is moving into a wider release in the US, and has made a total of $67m (£47.1m) after 12 weeks in cinemas.
The movie's director, Danny Boyle, won top prize from the Director's Guild of America over the weekend.
US BOX OFFICE TOP FIVE
1 Taken - $24.6m
2 Paul Blart: Mall Cop - $14m
3 The Uninvited - $10.5m
4 Hotel For Dogs - $8.7m
5 Gran Torino - $8.6m
Source: Media By Numbers
Clint Eastwood's film Gran Torino, which was overlooked in the Oscar nominations, has now made more than $110m (£77.4m) to become the actor-director's highest-grossing film to date.
US box office returns in January were up more than 20% compared with the first month of 2008, while numbers of cinema-goers rose by 16%.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office analysts Media By Numbers, said: "I think people feel movies are a good value for their dollar. Going to a movie is a habit people aren't willing to break."
"This is exactly how you want to start a year," he added.