Zero Dark Thirty a box office hit

Zero Dark Thirty hunted down the top spot at the US box office - and easily won it.

Sony Pictures' controversial Osama bin Laden manhunt drama nabbed first place with 24 million dollars in its first weekend in wide release, according to studio estimates.

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

Open Road Films' horror parody A Haunted House debuted in second place with a solid 18.8 million dollars. The Warner Bros mobster drama Gangster Squad, starring Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as police officers battling a mob boss played by Sean Penn, opened below expectations in third place with 16.7 million dollars.

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, Colorado, movie theatre 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 cinema audience.

The entire sequence featuring Josh'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 neighbourhood. The rest of the film's many bullet-riddled Tommy gun battles remained intact.

Internationally, Life Of Pi dominated in 68 territories with 35.8 million dollars, bringing its worldwide total to 452.1 million dollars.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey followed closely behind with 35.1 million dollars in 62 territories. The worldwide total for the first Hobbit chapter is now 886.1 million dollars. Les Miserables earned 35.6 million dollars in 23 territories, giving it a 234.3 million dollar worldwide total.