‘Zero Dark Thirty’ No. 1 at box office

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Zero Dark Thirty” hunted down the top spot at the box office — and easily won it.

Sony Pictures’ controversial Osama bin Laden raid drama nabbed first place with $24 million in its first weekend in wide release, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The film, which opened in a limited run last month, earned five Oscar nominations last week, including best picture, original screenplay and actress for Jessica Chastain as a dogged CIA operative.

Open Road Films’ horror parody “A Haunted House” starring Marlon Wayans debuted in second place with a solid $18.8 million. The Warner Bros. mobster drama “Gangster Squad,” starring Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as off-the-books police officers battling a mob boss played by Sean Penn, opened below expectations in third place with $16.7 million.

The weekend’s third place finisher, “Gangster Squad,” similarly attracted controversy last year after the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater left 12 dead. Warner Bros. pulled the movie’s trailer and delayed the release out of sensitivity because the film originally featured a scene with mobsters ruthlessly shooting into a movie theater audience.

The entire sequence featuring Brolin’s character being ambushed inside famed Hollywood movie palace Grauman’s Chinese Theater was removed from “Gangster Squad” and replaced with a new scene, which cost millions of dollars to reshoot, set in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood. The rest of the film’s many bullet-ridden Tommy gun battles remained intact.

Internationally, “Life of Pi” dominated in 68 territories with $35.8 million, bringing its worldwide total to $452.1 million. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” followed closely behind with $35.1 million in 62 territories. The worldwide total for the first “Hobbit” chapter is now $886.1 million. “Les Mis” earned $35.6 million in 23 territories, giving it a $234.3 million worldwide total.

Overall business in North America this weekend came in at $142 million, up more than 7 percent from the same period last year, when the Mark Wahlberg thriller “Contraband” led the box office with $24.3 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. It marks the third weekend in a row for Hollywood when business has been up over last year.

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