Zero Dark Thirty Goes Wide and Blasts Box Office Competition with $24 Million

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Weeks of elected official hot wind and a snub by the Academy Awards didn’t stop Sony’s Zero Dark Thirty from landing at the top spot at the North American box office this weekend. The acclaimed film’s first weekend of wide release easily surpassed the openings of the parody A Haunted House and the delayed drama Gangster Squad. Overall, business continued brisk in 2013 as the top ten rose 6.3% over ticket sales from last year at this time.

After opening in five theaters to gangbuster business in mid-December, Kathryn Bigelow’s War on Terror drama Zero Dark Thirty expanded to 2,937 theaters this past Friday and made the most out of the critical cheers and congressional jeers thrown at the film over the past few weeks. Thirty earned a rock solid $24 million to bring its total to $29.4 million. CinemaScore viewers gave the drama an encouraging “A-” rating, which bodes well for the film’s theatrical run over the next few weeks since adults tend to take their time to head out to the theaters to see films aimed squarely at their demographic.

Senators and Congressmen in Washington slammed the movie for its portrayal of torture as an interrogation device. But for all their complaining, our elected officials most likely only helped the film at the box office more than it hindered it. In fact, the controversy they stirred up probably fueled the movie’s number one debut more than the five Oscar nominations the movie got this past Thursday. Besides, if the Capital Clowns can’t agree on a workable budget for our country, then why would anyone believe them when it comes to a movie?

For those looking for something a little lighter than a 157-minute hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the new horror movie spoof A Haunted House seemed to fit the bill this weekend. The Open Road release co-written by and starring Marlon Wayans arrived on 2,160 screens and earned a solid $18.8 million for a solid per screen average of $8,712 (the best in the top ten), despite a 9% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes and “B-” CinemaScore rating that should push it out of the top ten in a jiffy.

Originally scheduled for release in early September but delayed due to the Aurora Movie Theater massacre last July, Warner’s Gangster Squad opened to mild numbers on 3,103 screens. The critically slammed (34% Rotten Tomatoes rating) Ruben Fleischer-directed drama earned $16.7 million in its first three days to land in third place. The film earned a good “B+” CinemaScore rating from opening-night ticket buyers, but it didn’t seem to help business much as ticket sales were down 8% on Saturday, usually the sign of bad word-of-mouth.

Fourth and fifth place went to two Christmas hits that were shown some Oscar nomination love by the Academy this past Thursday. Weinstein Company’s Django Unchained dipped 45% in its third weekend of release to earn an estimated $11 million on 3,012 screens to bring its domestic total to $125.3 million. The movie has become Quentin Tarantino’s highest-grossing film to date and could cruise its way to the $150 million domestic finish line.

Fifth place went to Universal’s Les Miserables, which only declined 37% in its third weekend of release to earn $10.1 million from 2,927 screens. The musical drama has earned $119.2 million and could wind down its run with $135-140 million in domestic earnings. The current domestic total is identical to the film’s foreign gross, although the latter should continue to rake in the bucks long after the North American run ends.

The remainder of the top ten was as follows:

6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner) $9 million (-48%); $278.1 million to date

7. Lincoln (Fox/Disney) $6.3 million (+16%) $152.2 million

8. Parental Guidance (Fox) $6.1 million (-37%) $60.6 million

9. Texas Chainsaw 3D (Lionsgate) $5.15 million (-76% OUCH!) $30.7 million

10. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) $5 million (+38%) $41.3 million

Next weekend Broken City, another horror entry in Mama, and The Last Stand open in hopes of surpassing Zero Dark Thirty, while awards contender Silver Linings Playbook goes into wide release.

- Shawn Fitzgerald

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