July 15, 2010 / 11:26 PM / 9 years ago

"Inception" dreams up big box office despite doubts

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A pair of heat-seeking pictures hitting multiplexes this week could push the temperature higher at the summer box office in North America.

The costly Leonardo DiCaprio effects thriller “Inception” opens Friday, while the Nicolas Cage family fantasy “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” got a head start on Wednesday.

“Inception” should fetch a fat $50 million-$60 million through Sunday, and “Inception” appears on target to land as much as $30 million through its first five days.

But both wide openers arrive on the scene wrapped in separate bits of intrigue. “Inception” has industryites wondering whether Warner Bros. can turn critics’ rave reviews into a broadly successful bow for director Christoper Nolan’s $180 million, 148-minute follow-up to “The Dark Knight.” Many expect big grosses in major markets on the coasts, at least.

“Everybody is waiting to see if ‘Inception’ can play in the middle of the country,” a rival executive said. “I don’t care if you’re an exhibitor or a distributor, you have to wonder about that right now.”

Not to worry, Warners Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman said. “The movie continues to get tremendous reviews, which will add to the tremendous momentum that the picture has been building,” he said.

Cage stars in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” as a master sorcerer seeking to face down his archnemesis (Alfred Molina) with assistance from an every-day guy (Jay Baruchel). Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cage’s “National Treasure” hits), the Disney picture essentially is an 108-minute riff on a character from the 1940 Disney classic “Fantasia.”

“We’re looking at the first two days as sneak previews, hoping to spread the word-of-mouth,” Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said.

The film rang up a so-so $3.9 million on Wednesday, and Thursday sales weren’t expected to push its total even to $10 million. So matinee-fattened weekend dailies appear vital to “Sorcerer’s” bewitching sufficient numbers of moviegoers.

Family films have worked well this summer, and Universal’s 3D animated feature “Despicable Me” marked a big $56.4 million opening last weekend. So it will bear watching if “Sorcerer’s” and “Despicable” can happily co-exist or whether one or both will suffer from the audience overlap.

Meanwhile, Bruckheimer’s recent theatrical track record has been uncharacteristically checkered of late, so a weekend tally outside the bounds of prerelease projections would be widely noted. And with “Sorcerer’s” production costs estimated at $150 million, Disney executives will hope to land north of the cautious forecasts.

Elsewhere this weekend, Focus Features will expand “The Kids Are All Right” from seven to 34 locations, seeking to build on exceptional reviews and positive word-of-mouth as the lesbian-themed comedy-drama slowly finds nationwide distribution.

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