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Last updated: February 20. 2013 2:01AM - 226 Views

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LOS ANGELES — Zero Dark Thirty hunted down the top spot at the box office — and easily won it.


Sony Pictures' 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.


After earning Oscar nominations last week, several Academy Awards contenders benefited at the box office. Controversies surrounding Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, may have helped create buzz for the film. Several lawmakers accused the CIA of misleading Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers by allegedly telling them such interrogation methods helped track down terrorist mastermind bin Laden in 2011.


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.


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