Marking a major victory for Kathryn Bigelow and Sony, Zero Dark Thirty raced to the top of the box office Friday as it expanded nationwide, grossing $9 million and putting the controversial film on course to earn $25 million or more for the weekend.
Tracking had suggested that Zero Dark Thirty -- which earned an Oscar nomination this week for best picture -- would end up in a close race with Warner Bros.' period mob pic Gangster Squad, but in a surprise twist Gangster Squad ended up tying for No. 2 Friday with A Haunted House. Both films posted an opening-day debut of $6.7 million.
Box office observers expect Gangster Squad to edge past Haunted House for the weekend, but say Gangster Squad is softer than expected. Each is projected to gross in the $17 million to $19 million range.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad centers on a special task force formed by the Los Angeles Police Department during the late 1940s to fight mobsters. Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Michael Pena and Emma Stone star.
Conversely, Haunted House is overperforming. Produced and financed by IM Global, the horror spoof stars Marlon Wayans. Open Road Films is distributing the movie, which received a B- CinemaScore.
Gangster Squad earned a B+ CinemaScore, while Zero Dark Thirty nabbed an A-.
Zero Dark Thirty -- chronicling the CIA's decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden -- is easily on course to become Bigelow's top-grossing film to date, besting the $45 million earned domestically by Point Break. And the film earned five Academy Award nominations.
Receiving the top Academy Award nom greatly can improve a film's fortunes if the timing is right, and that's why Sony waited until now to unleash Zero Dark Thirty nationwide, even as some Washington lawmakers take the film to task for suggesting that torture played a key role in tracking down bin Laden.
On Friday, Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal blasted a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who declared he wouldn't vote for the film because it equates torture to a "legitimate weapon."
“Zero Dark Thirty does not advocate torture. To not include that part of history would have been irresponsible and inaccurate. We fully support Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal and stand behind this extraordinary movie. We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda," Pascal said in a statement.
Zero Dark Thirty, financed and produced by Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures, was penned by Boal, who also teamed with Bigelow on the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
Among other best picture contenders, the Weinstein Co.'s Silver Linings Playbook enjoyed an impressive bump on Friday. The dramedy was up 36 percent over the previous Friday, grossing $1.5 million from roughly 800 theaters. The movie expands nationwide next weekend.