Analysis: Universal rolls out Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for Osama bin Laden "Zero Dark Thirty" in several key markets beginning Wednesday
Best Picture Oscar nominee “Zero Dark Thirty” rolls out in several Western European countries starting Wednesday, absent — at least for now — the firestorm of criticism that has accompanied its U.S. release.
The movie has been a lightning rod for detractors in the U.S. over its perceived endorsement of torture, an allegation that director Kathryn Bigelow and Sony executives have repeatedly denied.
“Overall, I believe Europeans are far less ambiguous than Americans when it comes to the use of torture,” Bruce Nash of box-office tracking service TheNumbers told TheWrap.
“To the extent that the film is perceived as pro-torture — whether it is or not, and I don’t believe it is — if that somehow became how the film is defined, that would hurt it at the box office," Nash said. "But I don't think that's the case."
Bigelow, screenwriter Marc Boal and several others involved with the picture have been in Europe for the past two weeks to promote the film. Boal told the New York Times that interviewers in France seemed to regard the torture issue as belonging to the Americans, and in fact appreciated the film's head-on approach.
Indeed, the film begins its foreign run with a lot of momentum. The dark thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden was No. 1 in its first week of wide release on Jan. 11 and has finished a strong second for the past two weeks.
Of course, the publicity surrounding the torture issue hasn't hurt it at the box office in the U.S. The domestic haul for “Zero Dark Thirty” to this point is nearly $57 million, ahead of pre-release projections and likely heading for $100 million.
The film's five Oscar nominations and the critical acclaim it has received have helped, too, but even Sony has acknowledged the flood of news stories raised the film's profile.
Universal will be handling the film's release in most countries in Western Europe, after buying rights to those territories from Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures, which financed it and cut distribution deals territory by territory.
It will open in France and Switzerland on Wednesday and in the U.K and Finland on Friday. Its debut in Germany will be on Jan. 31, and Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Norway and South Africa will follow in February. Regional distributors will handle the film's February releases in Russia and Latin America, and the Annapurna is still considering a China run.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is one of three Best Picture Oscar nominees that is currently hitting overseas theaters with a distributor different than the one that handled its U.S.release.
Sony, which along with the Weinstein Company co-financed “Django Unchained,” is overseeing the foreign release of Quentin Tarantino's slave saga. It opened last weekend and took in $48 million from 54 overseas markets.
DreamWorks' “Lincoln,” distributed by Disney in North America, debuted in Spain and Mexico this past weekend via Fox. With an explanatory preamble approved by director Steven Spielberg added, “Lincoln” opened to $2.3 million on 344 screens in Spain and to $729,000 on 259 screens in Mexico. “Lincoln” goes much wider next weekend, when it opens in 19 markets including Brazil, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.K..
As for the torture controversy that accompanied "Zero Dark Thirty's" U.S. release, it doesn't seem to have caused the slightest ripple.
Indeed, the fact that torture has been used in the the war against terror has been seen as a reality in Europe for some time.
In December, Europe’s highest court, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, concluded that techniques used routinely by the Bush-era CIA in connection with its extraordinary-renditions program constituted torture.
Also read: Kathryn Bigelow on 'Zero Dark Thirty' Torture Scenes: 'Depiction is Not Endorsement'
If torture does not become an issue, The Numbers' Nash said it should do solid business. He pointed out that other U.S. films about the war on terror have done pretty well overseas. In 2006, “United 93” made $31 million domestically and nearly $45 million overseas. Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” did $70 million in the U.S. and went to make $92 million abroad that same year.
Bigelow’s last movie, “The Hurt Locker,’” was about a U.S. bomb squad in the Iraq war, and it nearly doubled its $17 million domestic take, with $32 million from abroad in 2009. The bulk of that foreign run came after its surprise victory over “Avatar” for the Best Picture Oscar, however.
This weekend's U.K. and France debuts will be telling, but Universal quietly opened “Zero Dark Thirty” on just 250 screens in Spain on Jan. 4. With a minimum of criticism, politicians' ire or public furor, the movie has taken in nearly $4 million over three weekends.