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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Blasts Past Controversy, ‘Gangster Squad’ at Box Office

Kathryn Bigelow's drama does $9M in first day of nationwide release, eyes $25M for weekend. "Gangster Squad" on $19M pace, "Haunted House" just behind

“Zero Dark Thirty” roared out of the gate in its nationwide expansion Friday, taking in $9 million. That puts Sony’s controversial drama on pace to easily win the weekend box office race with $25 million.

It was running safely ahead of the weekend’s two debuting movies, Warner Bros.’ star-studded “Gangster Squad” and the horror spoof “A Haunted House,” the two R-rated films in a battle for No. 2. The period mob drama opened to $6.6 million from 3,103 theaters and is looking at a roughly $19 million weekend, just under analysts' projections. Marlon Wayans' comedy brought in about $6.7 million from 2,160 theaters, which puts it on pace for $17 million, in line with expectations.

"Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow’s tale of the hunt for Osama bin Laden,  has been an awards and critical favorite, but has been pilloried by politicians and others who claim that the film portrays torture as being an effective tool in the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader.

Analysts had projected a weekend in the $22 million range, so the publicity over the controversy — along with the five Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture that the film earned Thursday — appears to be helping the R-rated “Zero Dark Thirty” at the box office. Moviegoers gave the film, from Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, an “A-“ CinemaScore. It was on 2,937 screens, up from 60 last week.

Also read: 'Outraged' Amy Pascal: 'Zero Dark Thirty' Does Not Advocate Torture

Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn star in “Gangster Squad,” the violent period drama about the Los Angeles Police Department’s battle with mobster Mickey Cohen for control of the city in the 1940s.  It was to have opened in September, but Warner Bros. pushed it to January in the wake of the July theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., which occurred at a midnight screening of another of the studio’s films, “Dark Knight Rises.” A scene involving a shooting at a movie theater was cut from “Gangster Squad.” Moviegoers gave it a “B+” CinemaScore Friday.

“Haunted House” is a send-up of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise and the found-footage horror genre from Wayans, who wrote and stars in the film. Along with Wayans Brothers Entertainment, IM Global’s Octane genre label financed and produced the low-budget movie, which was acquired by Open Road in September. Moviegoers Friday gave it a “B-” CinemaScore.

Also read: Megan Ellison: Kathryn Bigelow 'Robbed' By Oscar Voters (Exclusive)

"Django Unchained" and "Les Miserables," which also received Best Picture Oscar nominations Thursday, were running fourth and fifth. Quentin Tarantino's slave saga took in $3.4 million Friday from 3,012 theaters and should finish the weekend with around $11.5 million for the Weinstein Company. Universal's musical took in $2.8 million and is looking at $9.8 million over the three days. The Friday totals for both films are down about 43 percent from last week.

In its fifth week, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” took in $2.3 million and will wind up at $7.8 million for the weekend, which should be good for sixth place. Fox's family comedy "Parental Guidance" added $1.7 million and will wind up at around $5.9 million for the weekend.

Two other Best Picture nominees, "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook," got a boost from Thursday's announcement. Disney upped its screen count on the DreamWorks historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg by 126 locations to 2,027 and brought in $1.8 million, a 14 percent rise from last Friday, which should translate to a $6.4 million weekend.

Also read: ‘Haunted House’ Key in ‘Gangster Squad,' 'Zero Dark Thirty’ Battle

The Weinstein Company's dark comedy "Silver Linings Playbook," starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, took in $1.5 million after adding 65 screens for a total of 810 and will finish at around $4.8 million for the weekend. Weinstein plans to go nationwide with the film for the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend on Jan. 18.

Fox' is also targeting next weekend for its expansion of Best Picture nominee "Life of Pi". Ang Lee's lyrical epic brought in $666,000 from 767 locations Friday and will wind up at around $2.3 million for the three days.

Warner Bros.' "Argo,” another Best Picture nominee, was up 49 percent from last week after adding 319 theaters. It took in $335,000 from 621 locations and will finish around $1.1 million for the weekend. Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage thriller is in its 14th week of release.

Last weekend's No. 1 film, "Texas Chainsaw 3D" from Lionsgate, took a major tumble. It took in $1.8 million, more than 80 percent off from last week, and will wind up with around $5.5 million for the weekend.