Two controversial dramas about real-life manhunts squared off in theaters this weekend, but only Zero Dark Thirty found its target.
The story of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden collected $24 million, according to studio estimates from box-office trackers Hollywood.com.
The film, which opened nationwide this weekend after a limited run for awards consideration, scored an easy win over Gangster Squad, the Ryan Gosling gangster film that was pushed into January after the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo.
Squad, a drama about drug kingpin Mickey Cohen that was expected to be an awards contender, mustered third place and $16.7 million.
The film was delayed because director Ruben Fleischer had to reshoot a scene involving a theater massacre. The Colorado shooting, which left 12 dead on July 20, relegated the movie to a mid-January release, a veritable dumping ground.
Though the film, which also stars Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, met the lower end of some expectations, the haul "is much less impressive given the movie's star power," says Ray Subers of Boxofficemojo.com. While just 34% of critics liked it, 70% of fans gave it a thumbs-up, according to the movie survey site Rottentomatoes.com.
Controversy, meanwhile, may have helped Zero, which has drawn the ire of lawmakers because of its depiction of waterboarding.
But that didn't stop moviegoers, 86% of whom gave the movie a thumbs-up, says Rottentomatoes.com.
Critics were more impressed. About 93% recommended the Kathryn Bigelow film, the site says. Subers calls the debut "a fantastic start."
The parody A Haunted House was second with a solid $18.8 million.
The Quentin Tarantino Western Django Unchained was fourth with $11.1 million, followed by the musical Les Misérables with $10.1 million.
Final figures are expected Monday.