'Zero Dark Thirty' In Manhunt For #1 Spot At Box Office

Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama has gotten a lot of Oscar love, which will likely translate to a bigger return at the box office.

Best Picture nominee "Zero Dark Thirty" goes wide this weekend, and given the boost it will get from its recently announced inclusion in the Oscar race, it's extremely unlikely that newcomers like "A Haunted House" and "Gangster Squad" will have any shot at the box-office crown.

Director Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in 2010. Her follow-up, "Zero Dark Thirty," has already been playing in limited release for three weeks. "Lincoln" led the Oscar nominations this year with nods in 12 categories. The historical epic has already grossed more than $100 million for Disney and will surely receive a boost, but this should be the weekend for "Zero Dark Thirty."

"This movie is a lot bigger than New York and L.A.," ComingSoon.net's Edward Douglas told MTV News of the drama, which chronicles the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and has stirred up debate about its portrayal of "enhanced interrogation." "I think it will be huge once it expands because Sony has done everything right with the marketing, and the controversy has just built awareness and interest across the rest of the country. Guys will see it for the siege on Osama Bin Laden's compound and others will see it to see if the torture complains are exaggerated."

Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock predicted a $25 million domestic haul for "Zero Dark Thirty" over the coming weekend as it expands into more than 2,600 theaters. "It will take an army to stop it. When 'The Hurt Locker' won Best Picture in 2010, it was already on DVD and grossed a total of just $17 million, making it one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners ever. This one has a bazooka of buzz behind it and is locked into not only the cultural zeitgeist of the day, but one of those films that, like 'Lincoln,' is almost your duty as an American to seek out."

MovieFanatic.com's Joel Amos also made note of the zeitgeist element. "As a nation, we spent 10 years in the shadow of the madman who took down the Twin Towers. To be able to have a front-row seat to the manhunt that brought him down is too tempting for audiences to resist."

Last weekend's champ, "Texas Chainsaw 3D," is expected to suffer a steep decline in its second weekend of release. With "Zero Dark Thirty" and other films expanding and all of the requisite hoopla surrounding the Oscar nominations, there doesn't seem to be much hope for other new flicks.

"Gangster Squad" was moved from an earlier release date in the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado to remove a scene that involved a theater shooting. " 'Gangster Squad' ran into some unfortunate press last summer with its odd link to the 'Dark Knight Rises' shootings," Bock noted. "Warner Bros. wisely recut the film and gave audiences a chance to distance themselves and emotionally heal from that very sad event."

Nevertheless, with stars like Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone onboard, "Gangster Squad" could open as high as $20 million, but not much higher. Horror parody "A Haunted House" isn't likely to beat "Zero Dark Thirty" or "Gangster Squad."

"But don't count it out, as spoof films have a history of pouncing on an unsuspecting box office," Bock cautioned. "They've done it many times before, and don't take kindly to playing second banana. Unfortunately, between 'Zero Dark Thirty' going into wide release and riding a massive wave of Oscar buzz and 'Gangster Squad' with its high profile cast, there's not much room to wiggle. Still, we haven't seen a spoof movie in theaters for a couple years, and 'Paranormal Activity' and the wave of found-footage flicks are way over-ripe for lampooning. I'm not saying it will do 'Scary Movie' kind of business, but in 2,130 theaters, $14-plus million or so would be a huge score for distributor Open Road Films."

Meanwhile, "Struck by Lighting" isn't going to put Chris Colfer from "Glee" on the Hollywood-movie A-list, but it certainly won't hurt.

"He's already on the way to being a star. Tribeca Film has done more to promote this movie than others, although it's still something that's going to get seen more on VOD than in theaters," said Douglas. "The fact that Colfer wrote the movie as well shows that he's a multi-talented dude a la Seth Rogen and hopefully he'll get more chances."

Check out everything we've got on in "Zero Dark Thirty."