'Zero Dark Thirty' Could Switch Course, Might Not Open Wide Until January (Exclusive)

"Zero Dark Thirty"

Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden pic is still officially set to open nationwide Dec. 19, but theater owners have been told that it might get a more traditional Oscar rollout and only open in New York and Los Angeles on that date.

Sony might take a slower approach with Kathryn Bigelow's awards hopeful Zero Dark Thirty in terms of its theatrical rollout.

The film -- about the CIA's hunt for Osama bin Laden and the U.S. Navy SEALs raid that left the world's most wanted terrorist dead -- is still officially set to open nationwide Dec. 19, but theater owners have been informed it might roll out more slowly.

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One idea being floated is to open Zero Dark Thirty in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 19. On Jan. 4, the movie would expand into a total of 10 or 12 markets, and then go nationwide Jan. 11 -- timed to the announcement of Oscar nominations Jan. 10.

Sony declined comment.

Film companies often roll out a film slowly to build awards momentum and boost word-of-mouth.

In this case, Zero Dark Thirty also 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.

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 campaign.

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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.

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.