Box Office: Zero Dark Thirty Wins Weekend; A Haunted House Beats Out Gangster Squad For #2

Ash may have a boomstick, but I have a glowstick!

With all the talk surrounding the controversial subject matter in Zero Dark Thirty, it’s not surprising that as the film moved into wide release after spending several weeks selling out theaters in NY and LA that it would open to big numbers. Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures is no doubt pleased. In 2012 she backed a number of films by talented directors John Hillcoat (Lawless), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master) and Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly). None of them were all that financially successful. However, the young production company is getting off to a strong 2013 with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Recently earning five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, that combined with the “torture debate” propelled it to gross a solid $24 million.

Last week, I said that A Haunted House was most likely a film that would be best skipping in theaters and waiting for the DVD. Yet, the audience was clearly there when you consider that the found-footage horror spoof had little buzz. It’s $18.8 million opening is spectacular considering the field of recent and new releases. That total gave it the second-highest per-screen average in the top ten, beating out the more expensive and much starrier Gangster Squad. Marlon Wayans of Scary Movie fame produced House by obtaining less than $10 million financing and then selling the domestic rights to Open Road, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures. The opening gross was the second-highest opening for Open Road, just behind last year’s The Grey which scored $19.7 million.

Last September Gangster Squad was scheduled to open. Unfortunately, its release was pushed back due to the Aurora, CO theater massacre in which a gunman went into a theater showing The Dark Knight Rises and killed several patrons. In advertisements for Gangster Squad there was a sequence depicting a gangland massacre with a man with Tommy Gun shooting up a movie palace. Studio Warner Bros. removed the sequence from advertisements and ultimately decided to shoot a new scene to replace it. So much time has passed that the film could have been unaltered and the public wouldn’t care. Honestly, people have such a short-term memory when it comes to major news stories that lose steam after a few weeks.

The problem with Gangster Squad is that it is just a so-so movie that tries to act all “gangsta” when it is merely a wannabee. Even with a talented ensemble that included Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, and Emma Stone, none have been known to open film. Though Gosling and Stone helped in making Crazy, Stupid, Love a box office successful relationship comedy two years ago. As for how the gangster squad will do in the weeks that follow, word-of-mouth may help, but it must withstand the pressure of performing against Broken City and The Last Stand, and several others.

The Christmas dust has settled and it appears that last man standing isn’t a Hobbit or Jean Valjean; it’s a freed slave named Django. Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained may not make as much as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but it is definitely the most unusual crowd pleaser we’ve had in some time. Having received several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), this past weekend saw Django Unchained become QT’s biggest domestic performer of all-time. Whether Tarantino’s next film is his continuation of Inglourious Basterds but with an all-black squadron, or his 1930s-stylized gangster pic, it should be a box office event.

Les Miserables and The Hobbit continue to perform well and they keep raking it in. The musical is a certifiable hit with its profits outweighing the costs. Will other studios be brave to bring more Broadway musicals to the big screen? Can we expect Cats in the next few years? The Hobbit is still trying for $300 million domestic but overseas totals are $668 million and growing.

Oscar frontrunner Lincoln and Parental Guidance were battling it out for seventh position. Steven Spielberg’s period drama picked up a few more screens to out-perform last week’s tally. After 10 weeks the film is now resting comfortably over $150 million. If it continues at this rate, it could make a stab at $200 million. Don’t look now but Parental Guidance has made $60 million. Now I watch a lot of films but somehow this one escaped me. I think it’s because I saw the commercials and saw that Billy Crystal gets hits in the balls with an aluminum baseball bat. I thought it was an episode of “Ow, My Balls!” as seen in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Please let’s hope that the success of PG doesn’t lead to a reboot of City Slickers with Crystal playing Curly Bill.

Last week’s number one film, Texas Chainsaw 3D took a saw blade to the gut and fell all the way from first to the back end of the top ten. Horror movies open up strong and fall sharply in its second week. But a 76% drop in earnings and attendance is pretty ugly. Twisted Pictures may have been thinking franchise when they made TC3D, now they should think if a follow-up sequel is worth the trouble.

Rounding out the list is a film that is getting a big Oscar boost, Silver Linings Playbook. The Weinstein Company had been quietly expanding it the last eight weeks before giving it a 65-screen boost (woo-hoo!) to bring it to 810 screens. Now the comedy has crossed $40 million. The slew of nominations will help it this coming weekend as it finally expands into a wide release. Leave it to Harvey Weinstein to take care of his actors. Going in to nominations the only for sure lock was Jennifer Lawrence. After the nominations were announced, Silver Linings had acting noms for every category. No one expected Jacki Weaver to be nominated for her supporting turn as the matriarch, and yet there she is with her second supporting actress nomination (her first was for Animal Kingdom). Now that the Oscar push is on let’s see how Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook do against the newcomers, or in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand – “oldcomers.”

Keep going to the movies and go outside your comfort zone if you can. You may just leave the theater surprised.

Weekend Box-Office Top Ten for January 11 – January 13, 2013

1. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony Pictures) – $24 MILLION

2. A Haunted House (Open Road) – $18.8 MILLION

3. Gangster Squad (Warner Bros.) – $16.7 MILLION

4. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company) – $11.1 MILLION ($125.4m cume)

5. Les Miserables (Universal) – $10.1 MILLION ($119.2m cume)

6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros.) – $8 MILLION ($278m cume)

7. Lincoln (DreamWorks Pictures / Buena Vista) – $6.3 MILLION ($152.6m cume)

8. Parental Guidance (Fox) – $6.1 MILLION ($60.6m cume)

9. Texas Chainsaw 3D (Lionsgate) – $5.1 MILLION ($30.8m cume)

10. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company) – $5 MILLION ($41.3m cume)

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