It's Official: Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' Won't Open Wide Until January

Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain - H 2012
Columbia Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain - H 2012

The Osama bin Laden pic will still qualify for awards season by debuting exclusively in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 19.

Kathryn Bigelow's high-profile Osama bin Laden pic Zero Dark Thirty is no longer getting a nationwide Christmas release.

Rather than opening everywhere on Dec. 19 -- as Sony originally planned -- Zero Dark Thirty will only debut in New York and Los Angeles on that date in a bid to build word-of-mouth and benefit from awards momentum. THR first reported on Oct. 24 that Sony was considering such a move.

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On Jan. 4, Zero Dark Thirty will add eight to 10 markets before expanding nationwide on Jan. 11 -- one day after Oscar nominations are announced. Independent companies almost always use platform releases, and while it's less common for a big studio, it's not unheard of.

Zero Dark Thirty now avoids the Christmas crush; titles opening nationwide during the 2012 year-end holidays include Les Miserables, Django Unchained, This Is 40, Parental Guidance and The Guilt Trip. Conversely, Zero Dark Thirty forfeits one of the most lucrative stretches of the year in terms of box-office returns.

Also, Sony -- which is reassessing its financial position -- won't have to write down the marketing charge for Zero Dark Thirty until January, a new quarter (the write down is timed to a film's nationwide break).

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On Jan. 11, Zero Dark Thirty goes up against Warner Bros.' period crime drama Gangster Squad, starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone.

Zero Dark Thirty is Bigelow's follow-up to best picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, for which she also became the first woman to win the best director statuette, and Sony is planning an aggressive awards push for the film, which chronicles the CIA's hunt for bin Laden and the U.S. SEALs raid which left the world's most wanted terrorist dead.

Sony could be borrowing a page from the past. In 2001, the studio and then-partner Revolution opened Black Hawk Down on four screens Dec. 28. The pic added more theaters Jan. 11 before expanding nationwide Jan. 18.

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Conservatives have tried to make Zero Dark Thirty a political football by claiming that the film glamorizes President Barack Obama. Originally, Sony considered opening the film before the November general election but pushed back the release date to the week before Christmas.

Paramount responded quickly to Zero Dark Thirty's new plan by moving up the nationwide release of The Guilt Trip from Dec. 25 to Dec. 19. The movie, starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, now avoids a direct showdown with rival holiday comedy Parental Guidance, starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei. Fox opens Parental Guidance on Christmas Day.