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Box office: 'Inception' on top again, beating the opening of 'Salt' [updated]

July 25, 2010 |  9:13 am

Inception2 "Inception" has achieved that rarest of box-office dreams: a big-budget event movie that's a word-of-mouth phenomenon.

Ticket sales for director Christopher Nolan's complex thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio declined only 31% on its second weekend in theaters to $43.5 million, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. That's the smallest such decline for any movie that's opened this year and one of the best ever for a film that didn't play its second weekend over a holiday. 

With moviegoers, particularly younger ones, spreading such good buzz about the movie and some coming back for repeat viewings, it now appears likely to gross a  strong $250 million in the U.S. and Canada and possibly more overseas. That would provide a good return on the $160 million that Warner and Legendary Pictures spent to produce the picture, considered by many to be a big risk given its dense plot and original style.

[Update, 12:11 p.m.: "Inception" is on track to have a very strong overseas performance, as it opened in a number of major foreign countries and grossed $56.7 million in 38 international markets. Among its best debuts: $8.9 million in Japan, where costar Ken Watanabe has done a significant amount of publicity; $8.1 million in France; $6.8 million in South Korea; $6.8 million in Russia; and $6.4 million in Australia.]

Salt Its main competition this weekend, the Angelina Jolie action thriller "Salt," opened to a pretty good $36.5 million. The movie  likely will collect around $100 million domestically, but it has much higher box-office potential overseas, where Jolie is one of the few stars who reliably draws big audiences.

[Update, 12:11 p.m.: "Salt" opened in only 17 small foreign markets this weekend, taking in $5.1 million and making a very strong debut in India.]

Distributor Sony Pictures and its partner Relativity Media spent about $130 million to produce "Salt," according to a person close to the production. A Sony spokesman said tax credits brought the final cost down to less than $110 million.

Most summer action movies draw a younger male audience, but "Salt' did just the opposite, based on the appeal of Jolie and also largely positive reviews. 53% of filmgoers were female, according to exit polling, and 59% were older than 25. That's potentially good news for the picture's playability, since older adults are more likely than teenagers to come to a movie after it opens. Audiences liked "Salt," giving it an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

"Ramona and Beezus," the only other movie to open nationwide this weekend, failed to draw much of a crowd. 20th Century Fox and Walden Media's adaptation of the children's book series by Beverly Cleary opened to a weak $8 million.

In limited release, the Sundance Film Festival favorite "The Kids Are All Right" continues to play extremely well. Focus Features expanded the offbeat family drama, which stars Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, to 210 theaters from 38 and collected $2.7 million, or $13,173 per theater.

"Kids" enjoyed a drop of about 20% at most theaters where it was already playing and opened well in its new locations, which for the first time included some suburbs. On Friday, it will expand substantially, to more than 500 theaters, as Focus tries to convert the indie drama into a mainstream hit.

The animated hit "Despicable Me" was No. 3 at the box office on its third weekend, declining only 26% to $24.1 million with no other family movies opening. It has now grossed a healthy $161.7 million and is on its way to more than $200 million.

[Update, 12:11 p.m.: "Toy Story 3" continued its phenomenal box office run with a huge opening in Britain, where it grossed $30.6 million, the highest-ever debut for an animated title (not accounting for ticket price inflation). It set the same record in Spain, where "Toy Story 3" opened to $7.9 million.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and

1. "Inception" (Warner Bros./Legendary) $43.5 million on its second weekend, down 31%. $56.7 million overseas in 38 foreign markets. Domestic total: $143.7 million. International total: $84 million.

2. "Salt" (Sony/Relativity): Opened to $36.5 million. $5.1 million overseas in 17 foreign markets.

3. "Despicable Me" (Universal): $24.1 million on its third weekend, down 26%. $3.2 million overseas in nine foreign markets. Domestic total: $161.7 million. International total: $17.4 million.

4. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (Disney): $9.7 million on its second weekend, down 45%. $10.3 million overseas in 21 foreign markets. Domestic total: $42.6 million. International total: $25.3 million.

5. "Toy Story 3" (Disney/Pixar): $9 million on its sixth weekend, down 25%. $62 million overseas in 43 foreign markets. Domestic total: $379.5 million. International total: $351 million.

6. "Ramona and Beezus" (Fox/Walden): Opened to $8 million.

7. "Grown Ups" (Sony/Relativity): $7.6 million on its fifth weekend, down 23%. Domestic total: $142.4 million.

8. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" (Summit): $7 million on its fourth weekend, down 48%. $20.1 million overseas in 69 foreign markets. Domestic total: $279.7 million. International total: $326.4 million (International figures updated at 6:11 p.m.)

9. "The Last Airbender" (Paramount): $4.2 million on its fourth     weekend, down 46%. Domestic total: $123.3 million.

10. "Predators" (Fox/Dune): $2.9 million on its third weekend, down 59%. $5.7 million overseas in 34 foreign markets. Domestic total: $46.6 million. International total: $48.2 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photos, from top: Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception." Credit: Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros. Angelina Jolie in "Salt." Credit: Andrew Schwartz / Sony Pictures