Here's your three-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Zero Dark Thirty - $24.0 million
2. A Haunted House - $18.1 million
3. Gangster Squad - $16.7 million
4. Django Unchained - $11.0 million
5. Les Miserables - $10.1 million
6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - $9.0 million
7. Lincoln - $6.3 million
8. Parental Guidance - $6.1 million
9. Texas Chainsaw 3D - $5.1 million
10 . Silver Linings Playbook - $5.0 million
The Big Stories
In the wake of one of the most unexpected Oscar snubs since Steven Spielberg was denied a directing nod for The Color Purple, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty opened to number one at the domestic box office this week. Finally opening wide after three weeks of limited runs, the film didn't come close to being one of the all-time January starters (it comes in about 17th) as I thought was possible. The film probably garnered more headlines this week for the nominations it didn't get than the five that it did and it is just as easy to look at the negatives of this week's new releases than what may look like glowing numbers.
Zero Dark Down
Box office observers love to justify down grosses with any variety of factors. An R rating for one. Two-and-a-half hour running time. Bad weather. Go sell that somewhere else. Zero Dark Thirty would still only be the eigth highest R-rated opening for January behind such acclaimed films like The Devil Inside and two of the Underworld films. There's a little film that has been in theaters for week called Django Unchained that is far more adult, runs over 170 minutes and has become not only Quentin Tarantino's highest-grossing film (with over $125 million) but this week will become the Weinstein Co.'s biggest grosser to date as well. And if you have paid attention to the news recently, chances are you have heard the term "unseasonable temperatures."
Maybe the most damning of all is that there is a film on both of these lists that can be sized up as a direct companion to Zero Dark: an R-rated cold true story about a military campaign, platformed in December and released wide in January to a $28.6 million start (over the MLK holiday) and a dozen years ago to boot. Black Hawk Down went on to gross over $108 million and on its 26th day was approximately $8 million ahead of Zero Dark's pace.
Top R-rated openers in January
The Devil Inside ($33.7 million), The Book of Eli ($32.7), Gran Torino ($29.4), Black Hawk Down ($28.6), Underworld: Evolution ($26.8), Underworld Awakening ($25.3), Contraband ($24.3), Zero Dark Thirty ($24.0), Hide and Seek ($21.9), Texas Chainsaw 3D ($21.7)
Sure, we got bin Laden and that's a positive and ZDT has the upcoming holiday for a chance at a decent hold. Except there are three more films each hoping to take their share of the split audiences (Broken City, The Last Stand and Mama) and if this weekend was any indication, they will not be far behind and at least two of them may be out in front. To rub additional salt in the wound of Zero Dark Thirty, of Black Hawk Down's four Oscar nominations back in 2001 one of them was for Best Director. And it wasn't nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay or acting. Precisely how was Bigelow snubbed?
Zero Dark's Haunted Challengers
Though showing up behind this week's top finisher, there are still positives to be found in the other newbies. Mostly by the studios that released them. Warner Bros. may put on a happy face about Gangster Squad's $16.7 million start and that its 34% Rotten Tomatoes rating IS technically the best-reviewed wide release of 2013 to date. Just ask Stuart Lee who called it "the best gangster film of the decade." (Unsure if that extends back to 2004 or just to 2010, but either way it's pretty stupid.) Secretly the studio is probably wishing it had a longer running time or some bad weather to pin on an pretty average start at best. Sure that $17 million would have been good enough for an easy victory if it had opened on its original September 7 release date, but a delay for reshoots after the Aurora theater shooting put it face-to-face against another elite squad hunting down a notorious criminal. The $75 million-budgeted film is already looking like the first big loser for the studio of the new year steadily falling back over the weekend behind another cinematic criminal -- Marlon Wayans.
Open Road's A Haunted House didn't screen for critics, unless you count the Twitter accounts used in the commercials -- @_Copastetic_ and @cuellarsteven27 -- who called it, respectively, the "Funniest movie ever!" and the "Funniest movie I've ever seen!" Ninety percent of reviewing critics disagree with them (and probably the 10% who liked it too) but audiences came out for it. Even more so on Saturday than on Friday ultimately banking $18.1 million. The number should not be so surprising considering even garbage like White Chicks ($19.6 million) and Little Man ($21.6) were also very profitable for Marlon. Nor should it be shocking that another really bad spoof racked up some decent dollars faster than you can remember Date Movie ($19.0), Epic Movie ($18.6) and Meet the Spartans ($18.5). Just pathetic, really. Take comfort that the film is likely to drop hard next weekend, but not nearly as hard as last week's winner.
A Near-Record Fall
More critics liked Texas Chainsaw 3D more than A Haunted House. Think about that for a moment. But the Wayans film is likely to win the war at the box office as the horror sequel suffered one of the biggest drops for a number-one opener ever. Falling all the way to ninth place this week, the 10th highest R-rated January opener dropped from $21.7 million down to just $5.1. That's a 76.3% decline putting it on the following list:
Friday the 13th (2009) (-80.4% drop), Texas Chainsaw 3D (-76.3%), The Devil Inside (-76.2%), Bruno (-72.8%), Doom (-72.7%), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (-72.3%), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (-72%), Paranormal Activity 4 (-70.7%), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (-70.7%), Valentine's Day (-70.4%), The Twilight Saga: New Moon (-70%)
On the flipside of the equation, while Django Unchained and Les Miserables lost a bit in lieu of the fresh competition, four other films saw their lot increase thanks to attention from the Oscar nominations this week. Steven Spielberg's Lincoln jumped from $5.4 million last week to $6.3 this week. How much more can 12 Oscar nominations for the now-easy favorite at this year's awards add to its $150 million-plus tally? It only needs another $27 million to be (inflation notwithstanding) the 10th highest-grossing film of Spielberg's career. After eight weeks of limited release and now eight nominations, Silver Linings Playbook finally reached a $5 million weekend and will be headed for over 2,000 screens next week. The Impossible added 236 screens and only dropped 7.5%, while Life of Pi lost 208 screens and fell 4.6% as it heads towards $100 million in the U.S. and $400 million worldwide.
Erik Childress can be seen each Thursday morning on WCIU-TV's First Business breaking down the box office on the Movies & Money segment.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]