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Movie projector: 'Inception' headed for No. 1, 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' to open in third

July 15, 2010 |  1:42 pm

Inception Warner Bros. is opening one of the riskiest movies of the summer this weekend, while Walt Disney Studios is opening one of the most commercially challenged.

Warner's thriller “Inception” from director Christopher Nolan will probably top the box office, according to people who have seen pre-release surveys, although they're far from certain how audiences will respond to its narrative complexity that's already dividing critics. The movie should open to roughly $45 million, but could easily go higher or lower depending on word of mouth.

Disney's “The Sorcerer's Apprentice,” meanwhile, got off to a weak start on its opening day Wednesday, collecting just $3.9 million. The studio's marketing campaign for the PG-rated adventure movie, which stars Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel and cost about $150 million to produce, has generated high awareness -- and little interest, according to surveys. It will probably draw a small family audience and struggle to collect just $30 million in the U.S. and Canada by Sunday.

That's a weak total for such a big-budget movie and a sign that Disney's ads -- for which the tagline was recently changed in some material from “It's the coolest job ever” to “There's no such thing as no such thing” -- have failed to resonate with audiences. If its domestic performance is in line with expectations, “Sorcerer's” will have to do much bigger business overseas, as Disney's recent domestic underperformer “Prince of Persia” did, to avoid becoming a major money loser.

"Sorcerer's" doesn't hit most major foreign markets this weekend, opening in only 13. Those markets represent an estimated 10% of its international box-office potential and include Argentina and Russia.

For the Friday-Sunday weekend, "Sorcerer's" is almost certain to come in behind not only “Inception” but also the animated “Despicable Me,” which will draw a large chunk of the family crowd that Disney wants. After opening to a fantastic $56.4 million, Universal Pictures' “Despicable” has done strong weekday business, reaching a box-office total of $79 million by Wednesday. It should gross another $30 million to $40 million this weekend.

“Inception,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate espionage agent who works in targets' dreams, is one of the very few movies this summer that's not a sequel or based on preexisting source material. It's also one of the most expensive, at $160 million, a cost that was split by Warner and Legendary Pictures. The studio made its bet, which also includes more than $100 million in worldwide advertising costs, in large part based on the appeal of director Christopher Nolan. Nolan's last picture was 2008 blockbuster “The Dark Knight,” which grossed $1 billion worldwide.

Nolan's small but avid fan base, as well as most cinephiles, are expected to embrace the movie, making for a big opening day. But for “Inception” to become a hit, Warner needs it to appeal to a broader audience that typically likes lighter action and thriller fare. Executives involved in the film and around Hollywood agree that its ultimate success will depend on word of mouth coming out of the first weekend.

“The Dark Knight” ultimately grossed more than three times what it took in on its opening weekend, and Warner and Legendary hope “Inception” will perform at least as well. They have frequently compared the new picture to “The Matrix,” which ended up with more than six times its opening weekend take.

-- Ben Fritz

Related:

"Inception" review

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" review

Warner gambles on an unproven commodity

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

Photo: Marion Cotillard and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception." Credit: Warner Bros.

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