NEW YORK — Flexing his star power, Denzel Washington led the thriller “The Equalizer” to a $35 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The Sony-Columbia Pictures release dominated the weekend box office, surpassing some expectations for the film. Washington plays a former commando living a quiet life in Boston when the disappearance of a prostitute acquaintance (Chloe Grace Moretz) lures him into a battle with the Russian mafia.

The strong opening marks the third-best debut in Washington’s career, trailing only 2012’s “Safe House” ($40.1 million) and 2007’s “American Gangster” ($43.6 million).

Washington, who will turn 60 in December, has been one of Hollywood’s most reliable draws without the benefit of anything like a superhero franchise.

“He’s the very model of box-office consistency,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. “I can’t think of another star that’s this consistent, that remains this rock solid over the course of three decades.”