Weekend Box Office (July 23 - 25, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Warner Bros. enjoyed a sensational second weekend for its sci-fi thriller Inception which capitalized on amazing buzz to remain the most popular film in North America. Angelina Jolie's new action pic Salt had to settle for second place but the spy thriller still generated a healthy opening. Like last weekend, funny films had the best holds while everything else dropped harder.

Declining by a slim 32%, Inception topped the charts once again with $42.7M, according to final studio figures, rocketing its ten-day tally to a stellar $142.9M. It was the second lowest drop witnessed all year for a wide release in its sophomore frame and put the Leonardo DiCaprio hit on track to break the $250M mark and possibly the $300M barrier as well. Playing in 3,792 theaters, including 197 IMAX sites, the mind-bending film averaged a muscular $11,267 which was tops among all wide releases.

Inception has an incredible road ahead of it. Word-of-mouth is amazing, repeat business is solid, competition over the coming weeks is not too fierce, and midweek sales have been enormous. It may even extend its streak to three weeks at number one. The hold was especially impressive given the arrival of another star-driven action thriller in Salt.

That Angelina Jolie starrer debuted well in the runner-up spot with $36M from 3,612 locations for a meaty $9,970 average. The Sony espionage thriller about a CIA agent on the run when suspected of being a Russian secret agent played to an adult audience and had cross-gender appeal. Studio research showed that 53% of the crowd was female and 59% was over 25. Reviews were mixed and moviegoers responded to the starpower of the lead and the promise of action and stunts. Unlike Inception, Salt featured very few special effects.

The media gave extensive coverage to the fact that Tom Cruise passed on doing the film and opted for another spy flick, Knight and Day, instead. But paying customers were more excited by Jolie as Salt grossed more in its first 3 days than Knight did in its first 9 days. Cruise's latest project is set to end its domestic run with less than $80M while Salt stands a great chance of breaking $100M.

Audience favorite Despicable Me held up remarkably well in its third frame sliding only 28% to $23.7M boosting the 17-day total to a stunning $161.3M. Universal's highest-grossing film in three years, the 3D toon is well on its way to reaching at least $225M and could go even higher as competition in the coming weeks is not too strong for its target audience.

Disney's big-budget misfire The Sorcerer's Apprentice fell to fourth place with $9.7M failing to break double-digit millions in its second weekend in theaters. With only $42.6M in 12 days, the effects-driven Nicolas Cage action title looks to reach $70-80M which would be only half of its production cost.

Giving the Mouse House better news was Toy Story 3 which still had good legs dipping only 26% to $8.9M in its sixth round. The 3D toon has banked $379.4M rising to number 12 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters behind the $380.3M of 2005's Star Wars Episode III. The $400M barrier will come crashing down in August.

Fox bowed its new girl pic Ramona and Beezus in sixth place with a quiet $7.8M. The G-rated film based on the popular children's books by author Beverly Cleary averaged a mild $2,873 from 2,719 theaters and played mostly to young girls and their moms. The low cost $15M production attracted an audience that was 69% family and 75% female. Reviews were generally upbeat.

Sony's Grown Ups followed in seventh with $7.4M, down 25%, pushing the total to $142.2M. Off 47% in its fourth weekend was The Twilight Saga: Eclipse with $7.2M boosting the cume to $279.8M. That puts the newest vampire pic at number 45 on the all-time list ahead of 2004's Meet the Fockers which grossed $279.2M.

Rounding out the top ten were action movies aimed at two different age groups of males. The PG-rated The Last Airbender grossed $4.2M, down 46%, for a $123.3M total. Paramount's franchise hopeful ranks as M. Night Shyamalan's third biggest hit ever trailing The Sixth Sense and Signs which still hold career highs for Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, respectively, as actors. Fox's ultraviolent Predators fell 56% to $3.1M putting the sci-fi pic at $46.8M.

The top ten films grossed $150.8M which was up 9% from last year when G-Force opened in the top spot with $31.7M; but down 12% from 2008 when The Dark Knight remained at number one with $75.2M.

Compared to projections, both Salt and Ramona and Beezus opened close to my respective forecasts of $38M and $10M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For a NEW review of Salt, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Dinner for Schmucks, Charlie St. Cloud, and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore all open.

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

# Title Jul 23 - 25 Jul 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Inception $ 42,725,012 $ 62,785,337 -32.0 3,792 2 $ 11,267 $ 142,883,424 Warner Bros.
2 Salt 36,011,243 3,612 1 9,970 36,011,243 Sony
3 Despicable Me 23,689,060 32,803,660 -27.8 3,600 3 6,580 161,289,905 Universal
4 The Sorcerer's Apprentice 9,651,495 17,619,622 -45.2 3,504 2 2,754 42,609,020 Buena Vista
5 Toy Story 3 8,917,512 11,998,276 -25.7 2,766 6 3,224 379,416,551 Buena Vista
6 Ramona and Beezus 7,810,481 2,719 1 2,873 7,810,481 Fox
7 Grown Ups 7,428,742 9,911,016 -25.0 2,859 5 2,598 142,240,828 Sony
8 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse 7,186,170 13,420,480 -46.5 3,121 4 2,303 279,827,262 Summit
9 The Last Airbender 4,217,021 7,755,153 -45.6 2,127 4 1,983 123,308,790 Paramount
10 Predators 3,120,656 7,016,502 -55.5 1,846 3 1,690 46,839,081 Fox
11 The Kids Are All Right 2,594,758 1,064,359 143.8 201 3 12,909 4,909,949 Focus
12 Knight and Day 1,694,003 3,608,021 -53.0 1,265 5 1,339 72,675,724 Fox
13 The Karate Kid 1,100,315 2,288,707 -51.9 780 7 1,411 171,713,173 Sony
14 Cyrus 709,464 1,093,313 -35.1 454 6 1,563 6,329,401 Fox Searchlight
15 The Girl Who Played With Fire 563,790 679,533 -17.0 165 3 3,417 2,944,891 Music Box
16 Iron Man 2 438,975 561,740 -21.9 330 12 1,330 310,840,824 Paramount
17 I Am Love 338,000 415,112 -18.6 166 6 2,036 3,217,709 Magnolia
18 Winter's Bone 322,661 347,380 -7.1 130 7 2,482 3,556,647 Roadside Attrac.
19 Hubble 3D IMAX 314,587 285,273 10.3 53 19 5,936 11,505,090 Warner Bros.
20 Khatta Meetha 309,211 83 1 3,725 309,211 Eros
Top 5 $ 120,994,322 $ 138,627,375 -12.7
Top 10 150,757,392 169,206,774 -10.9
Top 20 159,143,156 174,751,807 -8.9
Top 20 vs. 2009 159,143,156 147,331,437 8.0

Last Updated: July 26, 2010 at 5:15PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.