'Inception' dreams up $50-60 mil weekend

"Inception"

VIDEO: 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' opened Wednesday

The domestic boxoffice has been hot of late, and a pair of heat-seeking tentpoles hitting multiplexes this week could push the temperature higher.

Warner Bros. bows Christopher Nolan's Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "Inception" Friday, and Disney's family fantasy "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" marks its first weekend after unspooling Wednesday. Nolan's effects-filled thriller should fetch a fat $50 million-$60 million through Sunday, and the latter Jerry Bruckheimer-produced pic 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 Warners can turn critics' rave reviews into a broadly successful bow for the PG-13 pic. Many expect big grosses in major markets on the East and West coasts but wonder how Middle America will react.

"Everybody is waiting to see if 'Inception' can play in the middle of the country," a rival-studio exec 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 distribution topper 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.

First-frame heft will be enhanced by the fact that Warners is including a record 197 high-grossing Imax venues in the mix of more than 3,792 total playdates; that includes as many as 2,000 locations programming "Inception" starting at midnight Thursday. Co-financed by Legendary Pictures, the film totes a negative cost of at least $160 million and a 148-minute running time.

"Sorcerer's" stars Nicolas Cage as a master sorcerer seeking to face down his archnemesis (Alfred Molina) with assistance from an everyday guy (Jay Baruchel). Directed by Jon Turteltaub (the "National Treasure" films), the PG pic 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 boss Chuck Viane said.

On Wednesday, "Sorcerer's" rang up a so-so $3.9 million in estimated boxoffice, and Thursday coin wasn't expected to push its cume even to $10 million. So matinee-fattened weekend dailies appear vital to "Sorcerer's" bewitching sufficient numbers of moviegoers to keep pic profitability on track.

Disney today will expand the film's distribution to 3,500-plus theaters from an initial 3,383.

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, execs 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 dramedy slowly finds nationwide distribution this frame and next.

Industrywide, the weekend will be compared with a $160.5 million session last year topped by the $77.8 million debut by Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Year-to-date, industry grosses are pacing 5% ahead of 2009, at $5.94 billion.
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