Box office: 'Zero Dark Thirty' scores in thick of award season; 'Haunted House' tops 'Gangster Squad'

zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastain.jpegThere's no better time for an award season hopeful to top the box office than right in the midst of voting, and that's what "Zero Dark Thirty" did in its first weekend of wide release.

The $24 million weekend gross for "Zero" is more than director Kathryn Bigelow's previous Oscar winner, "The Hurt Locker," made in its entire U.S. run. (That war drama topped out at a modest $17 million.) Bigelow's Oscar snub in the Best Director category aside, "Zero" picked up nominations in Best Picture, Best Actress ( Jessica Chastain) and Best Original Screenplay. Now it joins the club of recent intelligent movies for adults that also become box office hits: "Argo," "Lincoln," "Django Unchained" and possibly "Silver Linings Playbook" very soon.

One movie not in that club: period action thriller "Gangster Squad." Despite a high profile cast led by Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone, the poorly reviewed movie -- originally slated for release in 2012 but postponed in the wake of the Colorado theater shootings -- underwhelmed at the box office with a $16.7 million weekend.

That wasn't even good enough to top low budget indie-distributed spoof "A Haunted House," starring Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins, which received even worse reviews but cashed in on the reliable audiences for spoofs and horror. Look for "Haunted" to take a major tumble next weekend, just as last week's #1 movie "Texas Chainsaw 3D" did this weekend. The gory 3D romp fell by a massive 76% from last weekend. Not unusual for a horror movie, especially one that earned a weak C+ score in audience polling, as "Chainsaw" did.

The only two movies in the top 10 to receive direct bumps from Oscar nominations (and not just a massive expansion of theaters, like "Zero") were "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook." "Lincoln" continued its incredible run with a 17% bump from last weekend, while "Silver Linings" added 65 playdates for a total of 810 and saw its weekend gross rise 38%.

Outside of the top 10, surprise foreign language Best Picture nominee "Amour" expanded from 3 to 15 theaters and earned an impressive per theater average of $18,000. "Argo" added an extra $1.2 million to its total -- already over $110 million -- after doubling its theater count despite director Ben Affleck's Best Director snub.

Next weekend's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday brings the nationwide expansion of "Silver Linings" plus three big new releases to challenge "Zero" for the top spot: the Mark Whalberg crime thriller "Broken City," Arnold Schwarzenegger's leading man return in "The Last Stand" and another movie starring the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, the horror thriller "Mama."

Jan. 11-13, 2013 weekend box office:

1) "Zero Dark Thirty" $24 million, week 4, cume: $29.5 million
2) "A Haunted House" $18.2 million, week 1
3) "Gangster Squad" $16.7 million, week 1
4) "Django Unchained" $11.1 million, week 3, cume: $125.4 million
5) "Les Miserables" $10.1 million, week 3, cume: $119.2 million
6) "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" $9.1 million, week 5, cume: $278.1 million
7) "Lincoln" $6.3 million, week 10, cume: $152.6 million
8) "Parental Guidance" $6.1 million, week 3, cume: $60.7 million
9) "Texas Chainsaw 3D" $5.2 million, week 2, cume: $30.8 million
10) "Silver Linings Playbook" $5 million, week 9, cume: $41.3 million
Photo/Video credit: Sony
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