Weekend Box Office: ZERO DARK THIRTY Leads with $24 Million; A HAUNTED HOUSE Edges Out GANGSTER SQUAD for Second Place

     January 13, 2013


In its first weekend in wide release, Zero Dark Thirty easily captured first place with an estimated $24 million from 2,937 locations. With months of press coverage, great reviews and a Best Picture nomination behind it, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the CIA thriller won the frame. A bit more surprising is the position claimed by A Haunted House. The low-budget genre spoof overcame the higher-profile (and higher-budgeted) Gangster Squad for second place at this weekend’s box office.

Title Weekend Total
1. Zero Dark Thirty $24,000,000 $29.4
2. A Haunted House $18,817,000 $18.8
3. Gangster Squad $16,710,000 $16.7
4. Django Unchained $11,065,000 $125.3
5. Les Miserables $10,127,000 $119.2
6. The Hobbit $9,080,000 $278.8
7. Lincoln $6,314,000 $152.5
8. Parental Guidance $6,100,000 $60.6
9. Texas Chainsaw 3D $5,150,000 $30.7
10. Silver Linings Playbook $5,000,000 $41.3

zero-dark-thirty-posterBefore we get to the details of this busy January frame, it is worth noting that this weekend’s top four films all carry the MPAA’s R rating. Why is that worth noting, you ask? Because it’s a relatively rare occurrence.

In the past four years there have been several instances where the top two films have been R-rated – Halloween is an especially fertile time for ‘adult’ themes. Early 2010 saw one week in which the top three films were all rated R: Shutter Island, Cop Out and The Crazies. But you have to go back to August 2009 to find a frame where the four top-grossing films were restricted to the over-seventeen set. They were: The Final Destination, Inglourious Basterds, Halloween 2 and District 9. And, yes, I made a big deal out of it back then, too.

Now that we have once again proven that the box office can support multiple rated-R offerings on any given week, let’s get back to Zero Dark Thirty. The drama opened in five locations the Wednesday before Christmas, and earned over $400,000 on its first weekend: a total that translated into a staggering per-location average of $83,430.

Zero Dark Thirty had a few things going for it before its initial debut, of course. Based on the CIA’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the film’s development had been closely followed by politicians and the press due to the access granted its filmmakers by US officials. The ongoing controversy provided Zero Dark Thirty with invaluable exposure, but it also helped that the film was a critical hit (93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) – not to mention the five Oscar nominations it claimed earlier this week.

gangster-squad-posterAs you may have heard, the Academy failed to honor Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow with a Best Director nod – one more controversy to add to the list. Bigelow already won an Oscar for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, of course; what her resume lacked was a number one hit. After this weekend, Bigelow can cross that off her bucket list. She can also look forward to Zero Dark Thirty becoming her highest-grossing feature (it should pass the $43.2 million of 1991’s Point Break next week). Looks like the controversy was worth it.

Naturally, controversy alone cannot insure a successful nationwide release. If it could, Gangster Squad may have had the edge this weekend. The crime drama had the misfortune of being linked in the press to two of 2012’s most senseless tragedies: Aurora and Newtown. Despite a cast of notables, including Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Gangster Squad has been a critical flop (34% on Rotten Tomatoes). Once deemed a lock for this weekend’s top spot, Gangster Squad debuted in third place, earning well under the $25.2 million of Hollywood’s last high-profile period crime drama: 2009’s Public Enemies.

haunted-house-posterOn Friday, Gangster Squad was running neck and neck with A Haunted House for second place. The R-rated comedy ultimately won a narrow victory on that day, and then widened its lead significantly over the weekend. A low-budget spoof of low-budget ‘found footage’ films like Paranormal Activity, A Haunted House seemed like a bit of an afterthought next to headline-grabbing features like Zero Dark Thirty and Gangster Squad. Even sporting the worst Rotten Tomato score of the year (all 13 days of it) at 10%, A Haunted House has already made back its $2.5 million production budget more than seven times over. Its movies like this that keep box office writers humble.

Following its eight Academy Award nominations, Silver Linings Playbook saw a 38% spike that brought the dark comedy back into the top ten after eight weeks in theatres. David O Russell’s film is set to expand nationwide next Friday, and should be a strong contender for first place. Lincoln also saw an Academy boost, rising 16% on the strength of its twelve nominations. And, on the other end of the spectrum, we have last weekend’s number one film: Texas Chainsaw 3D. The horror reboot dropped a giant 76% in its sophomore frame and narrowly avoided dropping out of the top ten entirely.

After making a big fuss about how rare it is for four R-rated films to top the weekend box office, I must admit that lightning could strike again next weekend. Along with Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook, two new R-rated films will debut on Friday: The Last Stand and Broken City. Granted, prospects for the latter are less than promising – and the PG-13 horror film Mama might get in the way of an all-R-rated sweep; but, its January at the box office. I have to have something to look forward to.


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