With the Christmas season clogging up with awards contenders, Sony made the risky decision of holding Zero Dark Thirty in limited release before bringing it out wide in mid-January, when fewer people are going to the movies. There was always a chance that the controversy over the film’s torture scenes could stifle it commercially or that the conversation might have simply played itself out, but it turned out to be a wise move. With mediocre “dumping ground” competition, Zero Dark Thirty easily claimed first place with $24 million, which is $7 million more than director Kathryn Bigelow’s previous film, the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, made in its entire theatrical run. (The fact that a film of its scale only cost $40 million suggests that most Hollywood productions are either shockingly wasteful or complex embezzlement schemes.) But sadly enough for humanity, A Haunted House, the latest Scary Movie-style spoof from Marlon Wayans, was the bigger success against its budget, taking second with $18.8 million on a $2.5 million budget. Meanwhile, the feeble Untouchables knockoff Gangster Squad, finally reaching theaters after delays and reshoots, banked a mediocre $16.7 million for third.
In limited release, the post-nominations Oscar bump gave several movies a solid increase of their previous weekend haul: Lincoln (+16.6%), Silver Linings Playbook (+38.2%), Argo (+57.1%), and Amour (+352%, which is mostly explained by going from three to 15 screens) all made the case that the Oscars are about business, and not entirely a horrifying show-biz circle jerk. Be inspired.
For more detailed numbers, visit Box Office Mojo.