The thriller Zero Dark Thirty hunted down top spot at the North American box office - and easily won it.
The Osama bin Laden manhunt story nabbed first place with US$24 million ($29 million) in its first weekend in wide release, according to studio estimates.
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.
Horror parody A Haunted House, starring Marlon Wayans, debuted in second place with US$18.8 million.
The mobster drama Gangster Squad, starring Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as maverick cops battling a mob boss played by Sean Penn, opened below expectations in third place with US$16.7 million.
Controversies surrounding Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, may have helped create buzz for the film.
Politicians accused the CIA of misleading film-makers by telling them such interrogation methods helped track down bin Laden.
Gangster Squad also drew controversy after the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre left 12 dead. Warner Bros delayed release as the film originally featured mobsters shooting into a cinema audience.
US and Canadian cinemas
1. Zero Dark Thirty US$24m
2. A Haunted House US$18.8m
3. Gangster Squad US$16.7m
4. Django Unchained US$11m
5. Les Miserables US$10.1m
6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey US$9m
7. Lincoln US$6.3m
8. Parental Guidance US$6.1m
9. Texas Chainsaw 3-D US$5.1m
10. Silver Linings Playbook US$5m