The film, about a reformed smuggler, took $24m (£15.7m) in its opening week, ahead of the 3D re-release of 1991 Disney classic Beauty and the Beast.
Musical comedy Joyful Noise, starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, made a below par debut at number four.
The Iron Lady, which won Meryl Streep a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, was in 10th place.
The film clambered 16 places up the box office ratings after being shown in more cinemas last weekend, and took $5.3m (£3.4m).
It was shown on 897 screens, while Contraband was played on more than 2,800.
The action movie, which is a remake of Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, performed better than anticipated.
Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for film studio Universal, said it was down to Wahlberg’s popularity as a performer and added that the movie – produced by British company Working Title – was cost-effective.
Meanwhile, last week’s box office number one, horror film The Devil Inside, slumped by around 77% and fell back to sixth spot in the chart.
Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com, said it was a “huge drop”, but was not significant for an independent film produced relatively cheaply.
“It doesn’t matter because Devil Inside is a profit-making machine. If your budget is low enough, who cares if it drops big and you’re making money?” he said.
Big-hitting films which continued to ride high inside the top 10 included Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol at three, and the latest Sherlock
holmes flick in fifth place.
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