Zero Dark Thirty: Controversy boosts weekend box office
Familiarity may breed contempt (if you're around the wrong person), but controversy surely breeds box office sales (if said controversy takes place at the time of the film's release). Blasted by Righteous U.S. congressmen and women, by CIA honchos (who always tell the truth, we know that), by Liberals Martin Sheen and Ed Asner, just a few days ago the Kathryn Bigelow-directed, Mark Boal-scripted Zero Dark Thirty was bypassed for a key Oscar 2013 category – Best Director. As a result, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was blasted by just about everybody, from those calling Academy members sexist to rabid right-wingers claiming that Hollywood Liberals have come up with an anti-torture blacklist. (As if that per se would be such a bad thing.) Adding fuel to the fire, Michael Moore, no stranger to controversy, took to Twitter to defend both Zero Dark Thirty and Kathryn Bigelow. (Photo: Jessica Chastain as Maya in the controversy-enmeshed Zero Dark Thirty.)
Now, considering all the outraged attacks and equally outraged defenses, why should anyone be surprised if Zero Dark Thirty, a (fictionalized) take on "classified" documentation about the U.S. government's hunt for Osama bin Laden, far surpasses new entries Gangster Squad and A Haunted House this weekend at the North American box office? Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, and Sean Penn, Gangster Squad is expected to open with about $18 million, followed by the the latest critically lambasted Marlon Wayans' atrocity, which should take in approximately $17m. For its part, Zero Dark Thirty is expected to score a solid $25 million by Sunday evening after having expanded to 2,937 locations on Friday.
Box office: Controversy sells
Throughout the decades, controversy has helped the box office take of movies as disparate as Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Suddenly Last Summer (homosexuality, cannibalism, lobotomy, incest, Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift), Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night (righteous cop Sidney Poitier slapping racist white man, Rod Steiger chewing gum), Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (demon child, kinky sex, devil worshiper Ruth Gordon, demon baby's mom Mia Farrow), John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (homosexuality, blow job, "X" rating, Best Picture Oscar, sex worker Jon Voight, crippled derelict Dustin Hoffman), Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (heterosexuality, anal sex, Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider), Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat (the title says it all, Linda Lovelace, heterosexuality), Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives (nasty Allen-Mia Farrow scandal).
Ah, and let's not forget Michael Moore's own anti-George W. Bush, anti-Iraq War, anti-U.S. media Fahrenheit 9/11, by far the most financially successful documentary in history. So, why should Zero Dark Thirty and the torture-porn accusations lead to different results?
Zero Dark Thirty distributor Sony Pictures (claims it) is expecting the aforementioned $25 million for the three-day weekend, though Bigelow's political thriller may end up anywhere between $24-27m. Either way, Zero Dark Thirty will have grossed more on its first wide-release weekend than the previous Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal collaboration, the 2009 Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, earned during its entire domestic run: $17.01m.
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Jessica Chastain Zero Dark Thirty photo: Columbia Pictures.