Three films entered wide release shoving holiday holdovers to the side while major Oscar nominees cashed in on the added attention. Leading the way was the Osama bin Laden manhunt pic Zero Dark Thirty which captured the number one spot in its first weekend of wide release following a strong run in limited play. The spoof comedy A Haunted House pulled off an upset by opening in second place ahead of the all-star crime drama Gangster Squad which was in a thousand more theaters. Overall, the marketplace was vibrant inching ahead of the same frame from the last two years which was impressive since those had the added boost of being the MLK holiday weekend. The top four films are all R-rated and five of the top seven movies have running times of two-and-a-half to three hours.
Fighting off controversy and a major Oscar snub, Sony’s awards hopeful Zero Dark Thirty surged to the top with an estimated $24M weekend easily leading the field of movie options. The Kathryn Bigelow-directed hit averaged a solid $8,172 from 2,937 locations after expanding from 60 sites last week. The total stands at $29.5M.
After winning a number of best picture awards from critics groups in the northeast, Zero nabbed five Academy Award nominations on Thursday including Best Picture, but not Director which was widely expected to be a lock. In addition, many U.S. Senators have publicly complained about how the film implies that illegal torture methods by the CIA helped in leading to the capture and killing of the terrorist mastermind. The controversy may have sparked curiosity among adult moviegoers and helped to drive in extra traffic. How it will affect Oscar voters in the weeks to come is anyone’s guess.
Zero has earned rave reviews from critics and an encouraging A- CinemaScore grade from moviegoers polled on Friday. The R-rated film inched up only 3% on Saturday from Friday. Adult men made up the core crowd as males accounted for 59% of the audience while 62% was over 30. An opening this strong targeted at this audience when major football playoffs are going on both on Saturday and Sunday is especially impressive. The road ahead will not be easy as Hollywood has decided to squeeze five action films into the next three weeks hoping all will connect with ticket buyers.
Open Road scored a big hit with its spoof comedy A Haunted House which surged higher than expected with an opening weekend of $18.8M, according to estimates. Averaging a sturdy $8,712 from 2,160 theaters in the U.S. (it did not open in Canada), the R-rated laugher is a parody of recent found-footage horror hits like the Paranormal Activity series and connected with its target audience of older teens and young adults. In fact this audience was utterly ignored by Hollywood in December and has been responding this month with House and last weekend’s top film Texas Chainsaw 3D both overperforming on opening weekend. House stars and was co-written by Marlon Wayans who has had success in the spoof genre throughout his career. The CinemaScore was a disappointing B-.
Settling for third place was the all-star crime drama Gangster Squad with an estimated $16.7M from 3,103 theaters for a moderate $5,385 average. The Warner Bros release had the most theaters and starpower of any of the weekend’s three wide openers but attracted the least amount of business. Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Emma Stone star in the R-rated pic set in 1949 and the cast worked hard in recent weeks by splitting up and appearing on talk shows in New York and Los Angeles.
But reviews were generally negative impacting a film that skews to an older adult audience. Studio research showed that 58% of the crowd was under 35 while males and females were evenly split. The CinemaScore was a decent B+ grade but sales dipped 8% on Saturday from Friday. The other new films enjoyed increases on Saturday.
Best Picture nominee Django Unchained dropped 45% to an estimated $11.1M in its third weekend of release raising its total to a sturdy $125.4M. That makes it Quentin Tarantino’s highest grossing film ever surpassing the $120.5M of his last effort, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds which was also a nominee for Best Picture. Django is also on track to surpass The King’s Speech to become the top-grossing title ever for The Weinstein Co. Also in the race for the big prize, Universal’s hot musical Les Misérables declined by a lower amount, 37%, and collected an estimated $10.1M for a cume to date of $119.2M. A similar $115.1M has been taken in abroad for a global tally of $234.3M.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey took a bigger tumble falling 48% to an estimated $9.1M for a cume to date of $278.1M for Warner Bros. The global tally rose to $886.1M with China still to open, tentatively in late February. 12 Oscar nominations juiced the grosses for awards frontrunner Lincoln which climbed up 17% from last weekend without any significant expansion. An estimated $6.3M weekend was enough to send the presidential pic over the $150M mark to a total to date of $152.6M with much more to come. As a director, Lincoln is Spielberg’s 12th blockbuster to break the $150M domestic mark and he has become the only one ever to score such hits over five consecutive decades.
With all the new films carrying R ratings, Fox’s PG-rated comedy Parental Guidance remained the only major choice for families slipping only 37% to an estimated $6.1M and $60.7M to date. Texas Chainsaw 3D, the new year’s first chart-topper, took a freefall tumbling from first place all the way down to ninth with an estimated $5.2M for a terrible 76% nosedive in the sophomore frame. The Lionsgate release has banked $30.8M in ten days.
Cashing in on Oscar nominations, Silver Linings Playbook enjoyed an impressive 38% bump in sales from last weekend with an estimated $5M weekend. The acclaimed dramedy averaged a solid $6,173 from 810 locations adding just 65 theaters from last weekend. The Weinstein Co. has been unbelievably patient in its roll-out of the Bradley Cooper-Jennifer Lawrence hit and will now go fully nationwide on Friday in its tenth weekend of release expanding to 2,500+ theaters for the long MLK holiday session.
By being the last of the major Oscar contenders to go nationwide, it hopes to capitalize on the heat of its theatrical release and score better votes during the time when Academy members are actually casting ballots for winners. It hopes others will have peaked and become old news by then. Aside from frontrunner Lincoln, only two other movies scored broad support with nominations in the five key categories of picture, director, editing, screenplay, and acting – Life of Pi and Playbook. But only Playbook has the wizardry of Harvey Weinstein behind it.
Tied for tenth place according to estimates was Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher with an estimated $5M, off 46%, for a $72.8M cume for Paramount.
Older films scoring Oscar nominations for Best Picture enjoyed new interest from moviegoers. Nominated for 11 awards, Life of Pi kept on chugging away towards the century club with another $2.7M, according to estimates, for a low 5% dip. The Fox hit has grossed $94.8M domestically. Worldwide surged to $452.2M with the half-billion barrier ready to come down next week.
Warner Bros. expanded its October awards darling Argo after nabbing seven Oscar nominations by doubling its run from 302 to 621 theaters. The weekend gross saw a 57% bump to an estimated $1.2M giving the Ben Affleck film $111.6M to date.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $112.4M which was up 6% from last year when Contraband opened at number one with $24.3M; and up 4% from 2011 when The Green Hornet debuted in the top spot with $33.5M.