Weekend Report: Controversial 'Zero Dark Thirty' Claims Top Spot
Fueled by great reviews and endless controversy, CIA thriller Zero Dark Thirty took the top spot in its nationwide expansion with $24.4 million. Among the newcomers, A Haunted House wound up in second place ahead of Gangster Squad, which is a bit of a surprise. Meanwhile, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook leveraged multiple Oscar nominations in to nice bumps this weekend.

Playing at 2,937 locations, Zero Dark Thirty's $24.4 million is higher than the debuts of other recent acclaimed adult-leaning movies like Lincoln ($21 million) and Argo ($19.5 million). Against some of its other comparable titles, though, it's less impressive: Black Hawk Down opened to $28.6 million 11 years ago, while last February's modern warfare movie Act of Valor scored $24.5 million.

Sony originally had Zero Dark Thirty scheduled for nationwide release in December, but made the shrewd decision to instead go with a platform release. That not only helped the movie avoid the pre-Christmas traffic jam, but it also allowed the controversy surrounding the movie's depiction of torture to reach a fever pitch. Add in the Oscar nominations from Thursday, and Zero Dark Thirty had reached "must-see" status by the time it reached nationwide release this weekend.

The marketing campaign emphasized the espionage and modern warfare elements over Jessica Chastain's strong female lead, so the audience wound up skewing male (59 percent) and older (62 percent over the age of 30). They awarded the movie a good "A-" CinemaScore.

It's hard to say exactly how high Zero Dark Thirty will go, but a final tally around $100 million wouldn't be surprising.

In second place, A Haunted House grossed $18.1 million from 2,160 locations (which translated to a higher per-theater average than Zero Dark Thirty). That's generally in line with Date Movie ($19.1 million), Epic Movie ($18.6 million) and Meet the Spartans ($18.5 million). Using these as comparable titles, A Haunted House should ultimately wind up with between $35 and $40 million, making this a solid early-year performer for distributor Open Road Entertainment.

The audience was 58 percent female, 48 percent African American, and 30 percent Latino, and they gave the movie a weak "B-" CinemaScore.

Taking third place with $17.1 million, Gangster Squad was a bit of a disappointment this weekend. Surprisingly, it was more front-loaded than A Haunted House: opening day made up 39.3 percent of Gangster's weekend, compared to only 37.5 percent for A Haunted House. While the weekend gross was better than The Black Dahlia's $10 million, it was way off from Public Enemies's $25.3 million, which would have been a good start for Gangster Squad.

The audience was split evenly between men and women, and skewed a bit younger (58 percent under 35), which suggests that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were the biggest draws in the cast. It received a "B+" CinemaScore, and it could get close to $50 million by the end of its run.

Despite racking up a handful of Oscar nominations on Thursday, Django Unchained dropped 45 percent to $11.04 million this weekend. To date, the western has earned $125.4 million, which makes it writer-director Quentin Tarantino's highest-grossing movie ever ahead of Inglourious Basterds ($120.5 million). Adjusted for inflation, though, Pulp Fiction sold close to $200 million worth of tickets, which is a level Django won't be able to match.

Les Miserables rounded out the Top Five with $9.6 million, which is a 40 percent decline from last weekend. It's now the fifth-highest-grossing musical ever with $118.7 million.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dropped 48 percent to $9.2 million this weekend. The first of three Lord of the Rings prequels has now earned $278.2 million, and it's on pace to end its run with between $295 and $300 million.

Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook both benefitted greatly from Oscar nominations this weekend. Lincoln improved 17 percent to $6.3 million for a new total of $152.6 million, which makes it director Steven Spielberg's 12th movie to gross at least $150 million. In comparison, Robert Zemeckis has six $150 million movies, while Michael Bay, Tim Burton, Chris Columbus and Peter Jackson all have five.

Silver Linings Playbook, meanwhile, jumped 39 percent to $5.02 million, which is the movie's top weekend so far. It has now earned $41.3 million, and it should be close to $45 million when it expands to around 2,500 locations on Friday.

Last weekend's first place movie, Texas Chainsaw 3D, dropped to ninth place this weekend with $5.28 million. Its terrible 76 percent decline is on par with last January's The Devil Inside; Chainsaw has $30.9 million in the bank so far, but will likely finish below $40 million.

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This Weekend's Forecast:

Forecast: 'Zero Dark' Expands Against 'Gangster Squad,' 'Haunted House'

This Weekend in Past Years:

• 2012 -
'Contraband' Hijacks MLK Weekend

• 2011 - 'Green Hornet Kicks Into Top Gear Over MLK Weekend

• 2010 - 'Avatar' Obtains More Records in Fourth Outing

• 2009 - 'Gran Torino' Muscles In

• 2008 - 'Bucket List' Lives It Up at Top Spot

• 2007 - 'Stomp' Steps Up

• 2006 - 'Glory Road' Glides Past 'Hoodwinked' in MLK Photo Finish

• 2005 - 'Coach Carter' Delivers $29M Win

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