The controversial film detailing the hunt for Osama bin laden was snubbed at the Oscars last night, as the judges continued their tradition of avoiding divisive political movies.
Zero Dark Thirty failed to win any awards, except for an Oscar for sound editing which it shared with Bond film Skyfall.
Steven Speilberg's biopic of Abraham Lincoln won Daniel Day Lewis a third best actor prize, making the British-born actor the man with the most awards in that category in Oscar history.
Meanwhile, Ben Affleck's film about a rescue in Iran won best picture, despite being ignored in the best director category.
"Argo's story is so top-secret that its director remains unknown to the Academy," host Seth MacFarlane joked.
Christoph Waltz won his second best supporting actor award for Django Unchained, a Quentin Tarantino directed revenge drama set during the period just before the American civil war.
Pixar's Scottish adventure Brave won best animated feature, a success which was quickly seized on by first minister Alex Salmond.
"Mark Andrews's wonderful depiction of Scotland continues to bring excitement and delight to those who see it and I am certain that winning the top prize in the movie business will now mean it is seen and enjoyed by even more people right across the world," he said.
The awards for Django Unchained, Argo and Lincoln suggested political films were finding a high degree of critical and commercial success and could give studios more confidence in funding them in the future.
Film studios are usually reluctant to pour money into political movies because of concerns about audience interest and a worry it will turn off cinema-goers who do not share the message of the film.
Those concerns were realised with Zero Dark Thirty failed to win much Oscar recognition despite a warm reception from critics, who praised its stylistic bravery and moral complexity.
But the film caused controversy from the moment it was released, not least for scense involving torture which lead investigators to bin Laden.
While the torture in the film does not provide investigators with answers, the suspect gives away information when he is treated to a meal and threatened with a return to torture later in the story.
Some question that version of events altogether. US senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, both Democrats, and John McCain, the Republicans’ 2008 presidential candidate, attacked the film for the "grossly inaccurate and misleading" suggestion torture led to bin Laden.
Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan said director Kathryn Bigalow was omitted from the best director shortlist because of the "bullying power of the United States Senate".
"Controversial movies suffer with Academy voters," Matt Atchity, editor in chief of film critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, said before the ceremony.
"Zero Dark Thirty will have a tough time winning Best Picture because I think the Academy is going to go with less controversial choices."