Gandolfini in Zero Dark Thirty

The initial wide release of "Zero Dark Thirty" easily made number one for the weekend, becoming only the second of the nine Best Picture Oscar contenders to attain that position ("Argo" did so for one week in October). Unusually, four Oscar rivals have already grossed over $100 million, one is closing in on that marker and another ("Silver Linings Playbook") could be positioned to make a run at it. The weekend overall is competing with several key NFL games, which may have somewhat depressed Saturday grosses.

Overall, the Top Ten took in around $102 million, down slightly from a year ago and $13 million less than last weekend, which was the tail end of the holiday. With a boost from the earliest-ever Oscar nominations, ithe weekend makes o an adequate but far from impressive start for the year. Last year, the nominations two weeks later yielded only two nominated films in the Top Ten. This year, five are included. Another, the far more limited "Amour," expanded to more cites this weekend to great success, and will be analyzed in more detail in Arthouse Audit.

Notably, Tom Cruise-starrer "Jack Reacher" has dropped off the top ten list.

1. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony) Week 4 - Last Weekend: #16; Cinemascore: A-

$24,000,000 (+) in 2,937 theaters (+2,877); PSA (per screen average): Cumulative: $29,481,000

Achieving a much-sought after #1 position the weekend after the nominations was a goal for Sony Pictures, both as a way to maximize the film's gross but also to show Academy voters that this, unlike the much smaller "The Hurt Locker," is a popular success. The film exceeded initial expectations, fueled by political controversy from Washington and the media over its portrayal of torture within the context of its much more complex narrative.

Sony from the start has sought to replicate the pattern it followed for Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" in early 2002. That film -- similarly playing off a known Middle East region military mission, also without top star appeal, also earning strong reviews (although not as acclaimed as this), actually grossed noticeably better its first wide weekend (also its fourth). With a similar theater count and lower ticket prices, it did $28.6 million on its way to a $108 million total.

What comes next: Audience reaction will now determine whether this can sustain a strong position in the top 10. With rival "Silver Linings Playbook" staying out of its way and finally getting its major national ad campaign next week while more than tripling its theaters, and other strong new films opening as well, it will be a challenge for this to hit $100 million unless strong word of mouth combined with ongoing awards interest propels it to a better than usual hold.

2. A Haunted House (Open Road) NEW - Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic score: 25

$18,817,000 in 2,160 theaters; PSA: $8,712; Cumulative: $18,817,000

Last year, Open Road debuted "The Grey" the weekend after the Oscar nominations, and shocked the business by being number one at just under $20 million. Opening a new film under similar circumstances, they fell short of that achievement, but otherwise outperformed expectations to open in second place, and more impressively have the top per screen average among all wide releases this week and outgrossed "Gangster Squad," which is playing in nearly 1,000 more theaters.

Independently made by IM Global, previously involved with sleeper successes "Insidious" and "Sinister" (both of which grossed around $50 million for a reported cost as low as $2.5 million, "Haunted House" was sold to Open Road (a distribution company co-owned by exhibition giants Regal and AMC), which also struck gold with "End of Watch" last September. They look to find low and mid-range budget films overlooked by the majors and position them during less-prime weeks when the competition isn't as strong and plentiful screen space is available. They have struck gold once again.

Star Mayon Wayans has had previous success in similar comedies, most notably the two "Scary Movie" hits, but it has been some time since he was a strong presence. He clearly reminded moviegoers of his past appeal, and the broad comedy tone for the film found a receptive audience at a time when more dark-toned films are prevalent.

What comes next: Whatever happens next is gravy, and this could drop quickly. But once again, Open Road has proven that its model works, and they will more than ever become a go-to distributor for independent producers looking for an alternative to the studios for their finished films.

3. Gangster Squad (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 40

$16,710,000 in 3,103 theaters; PSA: $5,385; Cumulative: $16,710,000

This is a disappointing though hardly disastrous gross for this post-World War II Los Angeles-set mob film, whose original opening was delayed after a scene with a movie theater shoot-out was reshot post-Aurora. It is filled with a talented ensemble of pros led by Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone and Josh Brolin, whose presence here did not lead to any benefit of the doubt from critics.

From a distance, this looked like a smart week for this to open -- post-Christmas, without any new "A" films in competition and an expected interest in something fresh. Instead the movie was confronted with "Zero Dark Thirty" (originally scheduled to go wide on Dec. 25) and the unexpected appeal of "A Haunted House." Without those, this likely would have been able gross well enough to approach modest initial success.

This falls in the middle of the grosses for director Ruben Fleischer's two previous films. The sleeper low-budget hit "Zombieland" opened to $25 million for a $76 million domestic total, while "30 Minutes of Less" did $13 million on its way to $37 million. With a reported budget somewhere in the $65-$75 million range, this is going to struggle to come close to profit.

What comes next: With three new wide-release openings next weekend and more football competition, this will have to depend on much stronger foreign openings to have any chance at success.

4. Django Unchained (Weinstein) Week 3 - Last Weekend: #2

$11,065,000 (-45%) in 3,012 theaters (+2); PSA: $3,674; Cumulative: $125,399,000

In its third weekend, this has now outgrossed Quentin Tarantino's previous "Inglourious Basterds" already, which couple with its major Oscar nominations makes this a good week for the film. However, that previous film actually grossed more its third weekend, suggesting that this time around the gross was more front-loaded, which the fairly steep fall of 45% suggests. That this comes right after the nominations suggests that this, though already being a solid success, won't get enough of a boost to last until the awards.

What comes next: Most of the world has yet to open, where the nominations should help add to what already will be significant additional grosses.