Weekend Wrap-Up

Unloved by the Academy, Zero Dark Thirty Is the People's Choice

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

January 13, 2013

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Academy Awards nominations were revealed on Thursday, and they directly impacted weekend box office for half the movies in the top ten. A couple of the Academy's most lauded films even increased from last weekend. In the end, the movie that was slighted by the Oscars, Zero Dark Thirty, handily won the weekend.

At the start of awards season, critics rushed to anoint Zero Dark Thirty as THE movie of 2012. The fact-based recreation of the CIA's pursuit of Osama Bin Laden dominated the competition. It was named Film of the Year by the National Board of Review and a slew of other online/print media groups. Quickly after the Kathryn Bigelow title secured frontrunner status, it became the target of a politicized argument due to its early scenes featuring torture.

Bigelow's attempt to tell the story as presented to her by some Washington D.C. officials would have been lessened without this authenticity. The subject of waterboarding has become such a hot button issue that simply by including the torture technique in the movie, Zero Dark Thirty became a divisive topic. How much this impacted Zero Dark Thirty's Oscars positioning is something that will never be known. What can be said with certainty is that Skyfall and Amour earned as many nominations as Zero Dark Thirty, a befuddling turn of events given what had transpired during the first six weeks of awards season.

Fortunately for the producers of Zero Dark Thirty, North American consumers were undeterred by the hot button nature of the subject matter. There was a great deal of passion to witness the events that led to Osama Bin Laden's being brought to justice. Due to this support, the expansion of Zero Dark Thirty from 60 locations last weekend to 2,937 exhibitions this weekend was a box office triumph. The Jessica Chastain tour de force spiked 790% (!) from $2.7 million to $24 million. In the process, it became the number one film in North America.


Zero Dark Thirty's reported production budget has varied wildly, even this week. Ordinarily reliable sources have disagreed by as much as $20 million regarding the financial outlay for the project. Our comfortable guess after exhaustive research is that the project cost somewhere in the range of $35 million. Given that Zero Dark Thirty has grossed $29.5 million after 23 days in limited release and now three days in wide release, it is undeniably a profitable endeavor for Sony Pictures.

Currently 93% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, Zero Dark Thirty was well received by audiences as well. It earned an A- Cinemascore and appears likely to be a box office factor for the next six weeks. While the movie is unlikely to win Best Picture due to the political schism, it is an unqualified hit. And we consider it to be the rare must-watch theatrical release. Its clinical evaluation of real life events is powerhouse entertainment and important subject matter to boot, independent of political affiliations.

Second place is a bit of a surprise, as A Haunted House had far better staying power on Saturday and Sunday than Gangster Squad did. Although both films opened on Friday with almost exactly the same amount ($6.8 million for A Haunted Hause versus $6.7 million for Gangster Squad), the horror movie spoof is estimated to have come out ahead to the tune of just over $2 million. A Haunted House's weekend total was estimated at $18.8 million, equal to a per venue average of $8,712 (it's playing in almost a thousand fewer locations than Gangster Squad, incidentally).

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