Weekend Box Office (July 16 - 18, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers were in the mood for using their brains as the smart sci-fi thriller Inception debuted atop the North American box office chart while the generic effects-driven action pic The Sorcerer's Apprentice was utterly rejected stumbling into third place with a weak showing. Funny holdovers held up well while most others fell sharply as the overall marketplace remained strong.

Following much anticipation, Warner Bros. unleashed its Leonardo DiCaprio-led crime thriller Inception and was met with a strong response from ticket buyers taking in $62.8M in its opening weekend, according to final studio figures. It was $2.4M better than originally estimated on Sunday. The studio released the Christopher Nolan-directed pic in 3,792 theaters including a record 197 IMAX sites and averaged a sizzling $16,557 per location. It was the actor's biggest opening ever beating out the $41.1M of Shutter Island from just five months ago. Inception also delivered the third biggest opening of the year for a 2D film following the high-profile summer sequels Iron Man 2 and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

Fans had been waiting for Nolan to follow up on his 2008 megahit The Dark Knight and Inception provided a thinking person's pic thanks to an original story written by the director. Films with openings like this are usually based on some kind of pre-existing source material or are headlined by stars that routinely open pictures at this level. Reviews and word-of-mouth so far have been very strong and the complex storyline does encourage repeat viewing so the road ahead could be promising. The PG-13 pic cost $150M to produce.

Overseas, Inception premiered in Nolan's native U.K. plus a half-dozen Asian territories to a solid estimate of $16.5M and rolls out into 29 more markets this coming weekend including Japan, France, Mexico, Australia, Korea, and Russia. Thirteen more countries including Germany open on the following frame.

Knocked down to number two but still packing quite a punch was the 3D toon Despicable Me which grossed $32.8M in its second weekend. The Universal hit fell just 42% which represented a terrific hold considering all the summer competition. Steve Carell's turn as a lovable supervillain has pulled in a stellar $118.4M in its first ten days and with strong midweeks could very well be headed past the $200M mark. The struggling studio has had only two other films join the double-century club over the last five years - King Kong and The Bourne Ultimatum - and is now well-positioned as one of the last major studio players in the lucrative animation world.

Superproducer Jerry Bruckheimer suffered one of the worst openings of his career with the weak launch of the big-budget adventure film The Sorcerer's Apprentice which bowed to just $17.6M in third place. With $24.7M in the five days since its Wednesday start, the PG-rated pic managed to average $5,028 from 3,504 theaters. Apprentice stars Nicolas Cage as a wizard that takes on a protégé to help him in his long battle with a rival wizard.

The performance was about even with the producer's 2004 summer adventure King Arthur which also bowed midweek in July in third place and opened to $15.2M over the weekend ($4,923 average) and $23.6M in five days. That film, still ranking as one of Bruckheimer's biggest failures, sold about 13% more tickets in its five-day debut and ended its domestic run at just $51.9M.

Reportedly costing around $150M to produce, the flop follows Bruckheimer's other pricey summer action offering Prince of Persia which has been a disappointment in North America grossing less than $90M to date despite a budget that was much higher. The veteran producer has long been a steady supplier of hits for Disney but this summer marks a rare case of back-to-back clunkers from his signature genre of loud and expensive summer action movies. Apprentice offered impressive special effects, but its generic feel prevented audience members from getting any excitement.

Summit's teen smash The Twilight Saga: Eclipse cracked the Top 50 chart of all-time domestic blockbusters this weekend. The vampire pic dropped 58% to $13.4M bumping the total to an impressive $264.8M putting the third installment of the franchise at number 48 behind Shrek which grossed $267.7M in 2001. Toy Story 3 rose up to number 15 on the all-time list this weekend with its $12M three-day take. Off 43%, the Disney/Pixar smash has hauled in $363M to date and now sits behind The Passion of the Christ's $370.3M.

Sony's Grown Ups still played well as the summer's big broad comedy grossing $9.9M in its fourth frame, down 37%, boosting the cume for the Adam Sandler pic to $129.2M. Fantasy flick The Last Airbender fell 53% in its third weekend to $7.8M giving Paramount $115.1M in 18 days.

Producer Robert Rodriguez's Predators collapsed in its sophomore frame tumbling 72% to $7M and lifted its ten-day total to a decent $40.3M. Fox stablemate Knight and Day took in $3.6M, off 53%, for a $69.1M cume. Sony's reboot hit Karate Kid dropped 57% to $2.3M and has taken in a terrific $169.3M to date.

The top ten films grossed $169.2M which was up 13% from last year when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opened in the top spot with $77.8M; but down 33% from 2008 when The Dark Knight debuted at number one with a record $158.4M. This is the third year in a row that Warner Bros. opened a new film at number one on this particular frame.

Compared to projections, Inception and The Sorcerer's Apprentice both came in below my respective forecasts of $73M and $21M.

Be sure to check the UPDATED chart for the top July openings of all-time which now includes Inception.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter. Check back on Tuesday for the winners of the Inception weekend prediction contest.

For a review of Inception, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Salt and Ramona and Beezus both open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jul 16 - 18 Jul 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Inception $ 62,785,337 3,792 1 $ 16,557 $ 62,785,337 Warner Bros.
2 Despicable Me 32,803,660 56,397,125 -41.8 3,501 2 9,370 118,434,555 Universal
3 The Sorcerer's Apprentice 17,619,622 3,504 1 5,028 24,708,059 Buena Vista
4 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse 13,420,480 31,708,438 -57.7 4,001 3 3,354 264,791,897 Summit
5 Toy Story 3 11,998,276 21,015,958 -42.9 3,177 5 3,777 362,965,378 Buena Vista
6 Grown Ups 9,911,016 15,806,738 -37.3 3,074 4 3,224 129,165,357 Sony
7 The Last Airbender 7,755,153 16,635,471 -53.4 2,805 3 2,765 115,138,607 Paramount
8 Predators 7,016,502 24,760,882 -71.7 2,669 2 2,629 40,300,543 Fox
9 Knight and Day 3,608,021 7,719,251 -53.3 1,925 4 1,874 69,117,400 Fox
10 The Karate Kid 2,288,707 5,365,636 -57.3 1,532 6 1,494 169,290,675 Sony
11 Cyrus 1,093,313 1,280,470 -14.6 446 5 2,451 5,084,186 Fox Searchlight
12 The Kids Are All Right 1,064,359 491,971 116.3 38 2 28,009 1,813,866 Focus
13 The Girl Who Played With Fire 679,533 904,998 -24.9 139 2 4,889 3,406,968 Music Box
14 Iron Man 2 561,740 392,755 43.0 362 11 1,552 310,018,590 Paramount
15 The A-Team 461,023 1,752,421 -73.7 428 6 1,077 75,207,206 Fox
16 I Am Love 415,112 503,008 -17.5 140 5 2,965 2,662,051 Magnolia
17 Winter's Bone 347,380 456,495 -23.9 121 6 2,871 3,064,052 Roadside Attrac.
18 Standing Ovation 343,125 625 1 549 343,125 Rocky Mountain
19 Get Him to the Greek 294,175 711,625 -58.7 287 7 1,025 60,129,930 Universal
20 Hubble 3D IMAX 285,273 255,424 11.7 53 18 5,383 10,855,247 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 138,627,375 $ 150,517,874 -7.9
Top 10 169,206,774 182,442,390 -7.3
Top 20 174,751,807 187,527,095 -6.8
Top 20 vs. 2009 174,751,807 156,632,042 11.6

Last Updated: July 19, 2010 at 5:00PM ET