Box office report: 'Zero Dark Thirty' tops chart with $24 million; 'A Haunted House' beats 'Gangster Squad'

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Image Credit: Jonathan Olley

After weeks of controversy in limited release, Sony’s $40 million Osama Bin Laden assassination film, Zero Dark Thirty, shot into first place with $24.0 million this weekend following five Oscar nominations (though not one for director Kathryn Bigelow) and an expansion from 60 to 2,937 theaters. After four weekends, the well-reviewed drama has earned $29.5 million total, and given its omnipresence during awards season, there’s no telling how high it could ultimately climb. $100 million is certainly not out of the question.

Zero Dark Thirty, which earned an “A-” CinemaScore, finished in the same range as Act of Valor, another recent Navy SEAL film, which garnered $24.5 million in its opening weekend in February 2012. The film is already far bigger than Kathryn Bigelow’s last directorial effort, The Hurt Locker, which found $17.7 million in 2009, and it will easily surpass both K-19: The Widowmaker ($35.2 million) and Point Break ($43.2 million) as the biggest hit of her career. Zero Dark Thirty played mostly to older males — according to Sony, 59 percent of its audience was male, and 62 percent was older than 30. Despite awful reviews, Open Road Films’ $2.5 million horror spoof A Haunted House finished in second place with a surprisingly strong $18.8 million from 2,160 theaters. The comedy’s $8,412 per theater average was the best in the entire Top 10 — ahead of even Zero Dark Thirty‘s $8,172 average.

A Haunted House is the latest offspring of the 2000 hit Scary Movie, which earned $157 million domestically and birthed not only a franchise, but an entire genre — one that Marlon Wayans, star of both Scary Movie and A Haunted House, now dwells in most often. The films that have resulted — with such creative titles as Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Superhero Movie — don’t lampoon films per se. Instead, they simply reference as many movies as possible, and play up parody, rather than actual satire. A few years ago, it appeared that audiences had lost their appetite for such comedies. In 2008, Superhero Movie bowed with a weak $9.5 million on the way to $25.8 million total. A few months later, Disaster Movie fared even worse, debuting with $5.8 million and earning just $14.2 million total.

Yet over the last few years, these films (which have lately dropped the Genre Movie title format) have seen increasing returns. 2009’s Dance Flick started with $10.6 million on the way to $25.6 million total, and 2010’s Vampires Suck opened with $12.2 million on the way to $36.7 million. A Haunted House‘s successful bow — especially considering its teensy budget — is the best opening for a spoof film since Date Movie scored a $19.1 million frame in 2006. Even with such a strong opening, there’s a very good chance that A Haunted House, which earned a “B–” CinemaScore, will not make it to $40 million total. With a young target audience and poor word-of-mouth, the film, like nearly all its predecessors, will ikely prove extremely frontloaded.

Warner Bros.’ $60 million L.A. crime drama Gangster Squad wound up in third with an underwhelming $16.7 million debut. The film, which stars Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone, fared better than Brad Pitt’s recent gangster flop Killing Them Softly, which tanked with $14.9 million total, but it couldn’t compete with recent hits like The Town, which started with $23.8 million, or Public Enemies, which earned $25.8 million in its first three days. The film suffered weak critical reviews, but its “B+” CinemaScore grade suggests it could find an audience yet.

Two Christmas Day releases rounded out the Top 5. The Weinstein Co.’s $100 million western Django Unchained fell 45 percent to $11.1 million, bringing its total to a terrific $125.4 million. As of this weekend, Django has officially replaced Inglorious Basterds, which earned $120.5 million total, as the highest grossing film of Quentin Tarantino’s career. In fifth, Universal’s $61 million musical Les Miserables dipped 37 percent to $10.1 million, lifting its cume to a dreamy $119.2 million.

1. Zero Dark Thirty – $24.0 million
2. A Haunted House – $18.8 million
3. Gangster Squad – $16.7 million
4. Django Unchained – $11.1 million
5. Les Miserables – $10.1 million

A number of Oscar nominated films fared very well this weekend as well. In its tenth frame, Disney’s $65 million biopic Lincoln increased 17 percent to $6.3 million, hopping into seventh place in the process. The film has yet to leave the Top 10. Silver Linings Playbook got a big boost, too. Weinstein’s $21 million David O’Russell dramedy jumped 38 percent to $5 million from 810 theaters. Thanks to a brilliant platforming strategy, Playbook has enjoyed great word-of-mouth and earned $41.3 million total over the last two months, and it will move into nationwide expansion next weekend. Life of Pi fell by only 5 percent to $2.7 million, bringing it ever closer to the $100 million mark domestically. The Ang Lee adaptation has grossed $94.8 million in the States thus far — and a truly remarkable $452.2 million worldwide. Way further down the chart, Amour, made its presence known upon expanding from 3 to 15 theaters. The much-heralded drama about an elderly couple earned $270,000, giving it a robust $18,040 per theater average. Keep an eye on all these films in the weeks to come — Oscar season can have a massive effect on the box office.

Next week brings the releases of Broken City, The Last Stand, and Mama. Check back to EW for full box office coverage of those films.

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