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Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty killed the competition at the weekend box office, grossing a better-than-expected $24 million as it expanded nationwide after earning an Academy Award nomination for best picture.
Heading into the weekend, tracking had suggested that Zero Dark Thirty would end up in a close race with Warner Bros.’ period mob pic Gangster Squad, but in a surprise twist, the star-studded new film was beaten both by Zero Dark Thirty and horror spoof A Haunted House.
Zero Dark Thirty’s No. 1 finish is a sizable victory for Sony and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, which continue to battle criticism that the film about the CIA’s decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden overemphasizes the role torture played in tracking him down.
Many believe Zero Dark Thirty, which has earned a total of $29.5 million since opening Dec. 19 in New York and Los Angeles, is benefiting from the controversy.
The critically acclaimed movie scored an A- CinemaScore from audiences. Males made up nearly 60 percent of those buying tickets, while two of the three top-performing theaters were in Washington, D.C., where the film has become a lightning rod.
Zero Dark Thirty, financed and produced by Annapurna, was penned by Mark Boal, who also teamed with Bigelow on the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. That 2008 movie, like many other modern-day films about terrorism and war, failed to whip up much interest at the box office, grossing only $17 million.
“Zero Dark Thirty is a big success,” said Sony worldwide president of distribution Rory Bruer. “Kathryn did a masterful job of telling this story.”
Fueled by African-American and Latino moviegoers, Haunted House outpaced expectations to gross a hearty $18.8 million for Open Road Films, IM Global and Endgame Entertainment. Placing No. 2, the movie starring Marlon Wayans is a parody of the Paranormal Activity franchise and other found-footage pics.
IM Global financed Haunted House through its Octane label, while Jim Sern‘s Endgame put up the marketing money. According to exit surveys, 48 percent of those buying tickets were African-Americans, while Latinos made up 30 percent.
Open Road marketing head Jason Cassidy credited much of the film’s success to Wayans, who crisscrossed the country doing publicity. “Marlon created a groundswell,” he said.
Warner Bros.’ Gangster Squad, placing No. 3, grossed a soft $16.7 million while receiving a B+ CinemaScore. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad revolves around a special task force formed by the Los Angeles Police Department during the late 1940s to fight mobsters. Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Michael Pena and Emma Stone star.
The film was supposed to open in September, but its release was pushed back after the Colorado theater shooting in July because of a scene in Gangster Squad that depicts a theater shooting. That scene was deleted.
Zero Dark Thirty was among a handful of films that enjoyed a boost after landing an Oscar nomination for best picture and is easily on course to become Bigelow’s top-grossing film to date, besting the $45 million earned domestically by 1991’s Point Break. The film earned a total of five nominations, including a best actress nom for Jessica Chastain.
Receiving the top Academy Award nom greatly can improve a film’s fortunes if the timing is right, which is why Sony waited until now to unleash Zero Dark Thirty nationwide.
Among other best picture contenders, the Weinstein Co.’s Silver Linings Playbook, from director David O. Russell, was the big victor. The film was up 38 percent from the previous weekend — the most of any film — grossing $5 million for a total $41.3 million. The movie ups its theater count to 2,500 locations next weekend.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, from DreamWorks and Disney, fell less than 17 percent, grossing $6.3 million in its 10th weekend for a domestic total of $152.6 million.
Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, now only playing in 757 theaters, was down a scant 5 percent after the nominations were announced, grossing $2.7 million domestically for a cume of $94.8 million. Overseas, the 20th Century Fox continued to defy expectations, grossing $33.2 million from 67 markets for an international total of $357.2 and worldwide cume of $452 million.
Best picture candidates Django Unchained and Les Miserables didn’t see as much of a bump but already are big grossers.
Also from the Weinstein Co., Django came in No. 4, grossing $11.1 million for a domestic cume of $125.4 million.
Universal’s Les Miserables fell 37 percent from the previous weekend, grossing $10.1 million for a total $119.2. Overseas, the musical took in $25.5 million for the weekend from 22 markets for an international cume of $115.1 million and worldwide total of $234.3 million.
Sony Pictures Classics’ best picture contender Amour, playing in 15 theaters, scored the second-best location average of the weekend, grossing $270,575 in its fourth weekend for a theater average of $18,038 and cume of $651,852.
New specialty entry Quartet, directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith, walked away with the best theater average of the frame. Debuting in two theaters in New York and L.A., the Weinstein Co. title grossed $50,333 for an average of $25,166.
Here are the full results for the weekend of Jan. 4-6 at domestic box office (* denotes Oscar best-picture contender).
Title, Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio, Three-day weekend total, Cume
1. *Zero Dark Thirty, 4/2,937, Sony/Annapurna, $24 million, $29.5 million.
2. A Haunted House, 1/2,160, Open Road Films/IM Global, $18.8 million.
3. Gangster Squad, 1/3,103, Warner Bros., $16.7 million.
4. *Django Unchained, 3/3,012, The Weinstein Co., $11.1 million, $125.4 million.
5. *Les Miserables, 3/2,927, Universal, $10.1 million, $119.2 million.
6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 5/3,012, New Line/MGM, $9.1 million, $278.1 million.
7. *Lincoln, 10/2,027, Disney/DreamWorks, $6.3 million, $152.6 million.
8. Parental Guidance, 3/2,957, 20th Century Fox, $6.1 million, $60.7 million.
9. Texas Chainsaw 3D, 2/2,659, Lionsgate, $5.2 million, $30.8 million.
10. *Silver Linings Playbook, 9/810, The Weinstein Co., $5 million, $41.3 million.
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