By Amy Kaufman
4:57 PM EST, December 20, 2012
On Wednesday, three Senate leaders condemned Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" for its "grossly inaccurate" portrayal of the events leading to the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
But the controversy only seemed to make the well-reviewed picture even more appealing to moviegoers, who showed up in droves at theaters in New York and Los Angeles on the same day Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain publicly bashed the movie.
Sony Pictures opened the CIA drama in five theaters Wednesday, collecting $124,828, according to the studio's estimate. That's the biggest Wednesday launch ever for a film playing in limited release -- excluding the times Walt Disney Studios has played its animated movies along with a stage show with an inflated ticket price.
"Zero Dark Thirty" was financed primarily by producer Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures for about $45 million. Sony, which is marketing and distributing the film, decided to open the movie in limited release roughly three weeks before its wide debut in an effort to build buzz.
The film, considered a frontrunner for a best picture win at the Academy Awards, will expand nationwide on Jan. 11, a day after Oscar nominations are announced and two days before the Golden Globe Awards ceremony. According to data from pre-release tracking surveys, interest across the country is already strong, particularly among men.
Meanwhile, two movies that debuted nationwide Wednesday -- "The Guilt Trip" and a 3-D version of 2001's "Monsters Inc." -- got off to weak domestic starts. Paramount Pictures' Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen road trip comedy collected $1 million during its first day in theaters, while Disney's animated kids flick only grossed $778,913. Each will be lucky to earn more than $12 million by Sunday.
Heading into the weekend, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is expected to claim the No. 1 position again after debuting with $84.6 million last weekend. To date, the film has grossed $295 million worldwide.
Of the newcomers, Tom Cruise's sniper flick "Jack Reacher" probably will fare best, collecting a so-so sum of about $15 million. "This is 40," Judd Apatow's dramedy about a middle-aged married couple, is projected to open with a decent $12 million. Also debuting in about 800 locations is "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away," a 3-D event film featuring the sweeping acrobatics made famous in the popular Cirque productions. The movie probably will not make more than $3 million.
"Jack Reacher" could become Cruise's second disappointment of the year after his musical flop "Rock of Ages" last summer. The movie, co-financed by Paramount and Skydance Productions for roughly $60 million, is based on Lee Child's bestselling "Jack Reacher" series about an ex-soldier looking to hunt down the perpetrator of a shooting rampage.
On social media sites, fans of the books have had trouble accepting the 5-foot-7 Cruise as Reacher, who Child described as a 6-foot-5 blond guy weighing more than 220 pounds.
While the 50-year-old actor may be losing clout with American audiences, foreign moviegoers still seem to love him. While "Rock of Ages" didn't translate abroad, the last few films in which Cruise played an action hero -- including "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," "Knight & Day" and "Valkyrie" -- all fared far better overseas.
Apatow also has something to prove with "This is 40," the fourth film he's directed. His last movie "Funny People" -- also a comedy with serious undertones -- was a box office disappointment, collecting just $51.8 million.
If "This is 40," which stars Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann, and Paul Rudd, doesn't beat industry projections, the filmmaker will have the worst opening of his career. His directorial debut, 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," currently holds that record with its $21.4-million launch -- though it went on to gross more than $100 million.
Apatow seems to be feeling the pressure.
"So nervous about the release of the movie. Sleep? Ha!" he wrote on his Twitter account Wednesday evening.
Unfortunately for Disney, it doesn't seem the 3-D re-release of "Monsters, Inc." will make nearly as much money as the 3-D version of "The Lion's King" did last year. After the studio added 3-D technology to the jungle tale, the movie ended up raking in $94.2 million.
But none of Disney's subsequent 3-D re-releases -- "Beauty and the Beast" and "Finding Nemo" -- have done nearly that well. While the mouse house only spent about $3 million to convert "Monsters Inc." to 3-D, if the film underperforms, it probably will be more choosy about which animated movies it wants to release in the format.
"The Guilt Trip" marks Streisand's first starring role in 16 years, when she appeared in 1996's "The Mirror Has Two Faces." The 70-year-old's new movie -- about a mother and a son who embark on a cross-country trip -- has earned dismal reviews. Those who do show up to see the film, which cost $40 million to produce, are expected to be women.
As for the "Cirque" film, the movie was produced by 3-D aficionado James Cameron, who even did some of the camerawork on the movie. The fictional film follows a character immersed in some of the most popular Cirque worlds, including the Beatles "LOVE" show. Paramount did not finance the production but is distributing it, and the movie will play only at noon and 7 p.m. screenings this weekend before expanding to all-day showings on Christmas Day.
Though none of the weekend's new nationwide releases are poised to have impressive openings, movies that debut the weekend before Christmas typically do strong business from Dec. 25th to New Year's, when many families have time to kill.
In limited release, Summit Entertainment is opening its tsunami tear-jerker "The Impossible" in 15 theaters. The film, which stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the parents of a family torn apart in the 2004 Thailand tsunami, is based on a real family from Spain who underwent tragedy while on vacation in the country. The survival tale has already performed exceptionally well in Spain, grossing $52.5 million.
IFC is also debuting its adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" in four theaters. Though she only plays a supporting role, Kristen Stewart has been promoting the film extensively because it is her first movie since the end of the "Twilight" franchise.
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