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Box office: 'Inception' opens big; 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' fails to cast a spell [updated]

July 18, 2010 |  9:21 am

Inception A risky bet on an original and sophisticated adult thriller paid off at the box office this weekend, while an attempt to create a new franchise flopped.

"Inception," which was marketed in large part on the appeal of "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan, opened to a strong $60.4 million, according to studio estimates, driven by positive reviews and audience word-of-mouth. But audiences thoroughly rejected Walt Disney Studios' new live-action version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," starring Nicolas Cage, which collected just $17.4 million for the weekend and $24.5 million since it opened Wednesday.

In particularly good news for the backers of "Inception," which was made by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures for a hefty $160 million, ticket sales on Friday were virtually even at $21.6 million, even though Friday grosses were boosted by $3 million from midnight shows among Nolan's ardent fans who wanted to see the picture right away. That's a sign of strong word-of-mouth.

The average grade from audiences was a B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore, but that covered a sharp divide by age. Moviegoers under 25 loved "Inception," giving it an A, while older adults had a mixed reaction, giving it a B-. 

Geographically, the film did extremely well in big coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, said Warner domestic distribution President Dan Fellman. In most smaller cities in the Midwest and South, grosses were average but not extraordinary.

Still, Fellman said he's hopeful the movie would ride audience buzz, particularly among college-age crowds, to a great performance in the coming weeks. If it holds as well as "The Dark Knight," "Inception" could end up with a final domestic gross of $200 million and be a major hit, particularly if it plays well overseas, where it has yet to open in most markets. If it plays more like an average movie, however, "Inception" could end up a mixed bag commercially, with a domestic gross of about $150 million.

[Update, 11:36 a.m.:  "Inception" also had a strong start in seven foreign countries, where it generated a total of $15.6 million. Most of that came from Britain, where the cerebral thriller opened to a very healthy $8.6 million.]

Sorcerer Disney, which spent $150 million to make "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," knew the film was not generating much interest among audiences from its advertising and made several moves to counteract that weakness, including pushing up the opening from Friday to Wednesday to start word-of-mouth and offering two-for-one tickets online. But audiences apparently just didn't like the movie, despite the pedigree of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub, who worked together on the hit "National Treasure" movies. Its $17.4-million gross was the worst first weekend for any big-budget movie this summer.

Unless "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is a huge hit overseas, it seems destined to be a major money loser for Disney.

[Update, 11:36 a.m.: Overseas this weekend, "Sorcerer's Apprentice" started with $8.3 million in 13 foreign territories, including a solid $4.8 million in Russia.]

"Sorcerer's" came in third at the box office behind "Despicable Me," which dropped a relatively modest 42% after its big opening and collected $32.7 million. Universal Pictures' animated family film has become one of the summer's surprise hits, grossing $118.4 million domestically in its first 10 days.

20th Century Fox's "Predators," an update of the 1980s science-fiction action series, collapsed on its second weekend, falling 73% to to $6.8 million, according to Hollywood.com. Apparently, most fans who wanted to see the movie turned out opening weekend.

In limited release, Sundance Film Festival hit "The Kids Are All Right," starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, expanded from seven to 38 theaters and continued to play very well, grossing just a little over $1 million, or about $27,000 per screen. Its total after 10 days is $1.8 million, and the family comedy should be on its way to more than $10 million.

But the comedy "Cyrus," starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill, seemed to hit a wall. Fox Searchlight took the movie from 200 to 446 theaters and saw grosses actually decline 16% to $1.1 million, as suburban audiences didn't take to the awkward comedy as much as urban audiences had. Its total gross to date is $5.1 million.

[Update, 11:36 a.m.: Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Inception" (Warner Bros./Legendary): Opened to $60.4 million. $15.6 million overseas in seven foreign markets.

2. "Despicable Me" (Universal): $32.7 million on its second weekend, down 42%. $4 million overseas in seven foreign territories. Domestic total: $118.4 million. International total: $11.3 million.

3. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (Disney): $17.4 million on its first weekend. $24.5 million total since it opened Wednesday. $8.3 million overseas in 13 foreign markets.

4. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" (Summit): $13.5 million on its third weekend, down 57%. Domestic total: $264.9 million.

5. "Toy Story 3" (Disney/Pixar): $11.7 million on its fifth weekend, down 44%. $32.9 million overseas in 41 foreign markets. Domestic total: $362.7 million. International total: $267.5 million.

6. "Grown Ups" (Sony/Relativity): $10 million on its fourth weekend, down 37%. $960,000 overseas in eight foreign markets. Domestic total: $129.3 million. International total: $9.5 million.

7. "The Last Airbender" (Paramount): $7.5 million on its third weekend, down 55%. $6.3 million overseas in six foreign markets. Domestic total: $114.8 million. International total: $20 million.

8. "Predators" (Fox/Dune): $6.8 million on its second weekend, down 73%. $11.1 million overseas in 31 foreign markets. Domestic total: $40.1 million. International total: $37.6 million.

9. "Knight and Day" (Fox/New Regency/Dune): $3.7 million on its fourth weekend, down 52%. $20 million overseas in 49 foreign markets. Domestic total: $69.2 million. International total: $63.5 million.

10. "The Karate Kid" (Sony/China Film): $2.2 million on its sixth weekend, down 59%. $4.3 million overseas in 28 foreign markets. Domestic total: $169.2 million. International total: $52.9 million.
]

-- Ben Fritz

Related:

Warner gambles on an unproven commodity

While supplies last: Disney offers 2-for-1 special on tickets for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"

Disney tries to pull a hit out of its bag of tricks

"Inception" review

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" review

Photos, from top: Marion Cotillard and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception." Credit: Melissa Mosely / Warner Bros. Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Credit: Robert Zuckerman / Disney

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