Despite controversy, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ soars in limited release

Chris Pratt, left, and Joel Edgerton star in "Zero Dark Thirty," which got off to a strong start at the box office this weekend in limited release.
(Sony Pictures)

The backlash in Washington over “Zero Dark Thirty” didn’t reach the box office, as Kathryn Bigelow‘s CIA thriller got off to an excellent start in limited release.

Playing in five theaters, the film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden grossed $410,000 over the weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures. That amounts to a robust per-theater average of $82,000 -- the fourth highest of the year for a movie in limited release, behind “The Master,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Lincoln.”

The movie, which Sony opened Wednesday in an effort to spread positive word of mouth about the picture before the crowded weekend, has now collected $639,000 in all.

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The well-reviewed movie has been on a roller coaster ride over the last month, being named best picture of the year by a handful of critics group while facing criticism from top government officials. On Friday, Michael Morrell, acting director of the CIA, said the movie gives the false impression that “enhanced interrogation techniques” -- a.k.a. torture -- helped to find Bin Laden. Morrell’s condemnation of the movie came only days after a trio of senators -- John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin -- complained the film was “grossly inaccurate.”

“Zero Dark Thirty” will expand to 60 theaters in 11 markets Jan. 4 before debuting nationwide Jan. 11, when pre-release audience polling suggests the picture will post a strong wide opening.

Also debuting in limited release over the weekend was “Amour,” the French Palme d’Or-winning film about an elderly couple in declining health. Sony Pictures Classics debuted the film in three locations Wednesday, though over the weekend it grossed $70,662 for a solid $23,554 per-theater average. That’s a slightly better figure than the $19,949 director Michael Haneke‘s fellow Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon” averaged in 2009 on its first weekend. The five-day total for “Amour” now stands at $100,213.

Audiences were less interested in “The Impossible,” a drama about a family torn apart by the 2004 Thailand tsunami. The Summit Entertainment movie, which has generated award buzz for its star Naomi Watts, did not fare particularly well at the box office this weekend, selling $138,750 worth of tickets in 15 theaters. With a weak per-theater average of $9,250, it doesn’t appear moviegoers were swayed by the film’s overwhelmingly positive reviews.


“On the Road,” an adaptation of Jack Kerouac‘s classic road trip book, performed only slightly better. Despite the fact that the film’s supporting player and “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart heavily promoted it, the IFC film grossed just $41,600 over the weekend. Playing in four theaters, the per-location average was an underwhelming $10,400.


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