'Salt' can't shake 'Inception' from No. 1

8:41 AM PST 07/25/2010 by Carl DiOrio, AP

Jolie thriller grabs $36.5 mil, but DiCaprio adds $43.5 mil

Sony's Angelina Jolie starrer "Salt" couldn't shake a high-flying holdover pic and settled for second place in its opening weekend, but the action-thriller's estimated $36.5 million in domestic boxoffice makes a second mission by its butt-kicking CIA operative likely.

"This is certainly the first good indicator," "Salt" producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura said. "It's got to have this kind of success worldwide. If it does, we'll have a sequel."

Studio execs expect the pic to do outsized foreign boxoffice, with "Salt" set to launch in its first major international territories Friday.

Meantime, Warner Bros.' Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "Inception" used a tiny 31% drop from its week-earlier bow to top all domestic rivals with $43.5 million. That brought 10-day coin for the Christopher Nolan-helmed fantasy thriller to a dreamy $143.7 million.

Also during the weekend, Fox's G-rated comedy "Ramona and Beezus" debuted with $8 million in sixth place. The weekend's bronze medal went to Universal's "Despicable Me," whose $24.1 million session raised the 3D animated comedy's cumulative boxoffice to $161.7 million through three frames.

Another holdover pic marking a sophomore session -- Disney's Nicolas Cage-toplined "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" -- slid 45% from its opening tally to register $9.7 million in fourth place and a cume of $42.6 million.

Collectively, the weekend top 10 rung up $148 million, or 7% more than top performers during a comparable frame last year, Rentrak said.

The big weekend tally by "Inception" pushed Warners beyond $1 billion in U.S. and Canadian coin for an unprecedented tenth consecutive year. The pic's weekend bounty included a $4.9 million contribution by Imax specialty venues.

"The fantastic performance of 'Inception' continues to be driven by word of mouth and repeat business," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said. "That's rare for a wide summer-release film."

Helmed by Phillip Noyce ("The Quiet American"), "Salt" totes an estimated $110 million negative cost including New York tax credits received on its Empire State production.

The tale of CIA intrigue has Jolie's character Evelyn Salt accused of being a Russian double agent and represents a second consecutive action role for its topliner following 2008's "Wanted." Co-stars include Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("2012").

"This picture is the way people want to see Angie -- kicking butt," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer enthused.

Opening audiences for "Salt" skewed 53% female, with 59% of patrons aged 25 or older.

Bruer acknowledged a sequel has been discussed preliminarily. "I certainly wouldn't vote against it," he added.

Di Bonaventura, who produced "Salt" with Sunil Perkash, said he was "very happy" with the pic's domestic bow.

"We have a fierce competitor in the marketplace in 'Inception,' and we found the room for us," the producer said. "That was always the concern going in, and we did find the room."

"Ramona" opened with 75% female support and 69% of audiences comprised of family moviegoers.

Directed by Elizabeth Allen ("Aquamarine"), "Ramona" stars young bigscreen newcomers Joey King and Selena Gomez, and co-stars John Corbett ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding"). Inspired by a series of kids' books, the film cost an estimated $15 million to produce.

"It's a very inexpensive movie, so the movie will be very profitable for us," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said.

In a limited bow, IFC Films unspooled dramedy "Life During Wartime" in a single New York location and collected an auspicious $30,750. Todd Solondz-directed "Life" adds an L.A. site on Friday.

Sony Pictures Classics reissued 1992 Tilda Swinton starrer "Orlando" on solo screens in New York and L.A. to gross $11,448, or a solid $5,724 per venue, and bring lifetime cume for the Sally Potter-helmed pic to $5.3 million.

In a notable expansion, Focus Features' "The Kids Are All Right" -- starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo -- added another 163 playdates for a total 201 and fetched $2.6 million. That was a righteous $13,173 per engagement and brought cume to almost $5 million through three frames of limited release.

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko ("Laurel Canyon"), "Kid" has enjoyed an auspicious platform campaign to date, with execs mulling whether to expand the dramedy more aggressively in coming sessions. So far, Focus plans to stretch distribution to 500-plus theaters next weekend.

"With this weekend's results, we will certainly be examining the expansion options," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said.

Looking ahead, three pics open wide on Friday: Warners unspools family-targeting comedy sequel "Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore," Universal sends out Zac Efron-toplined drama "Charlie St. Cloud" and Paramount debuts the Jay Roach-helmed comedy "Dinner For Schmucks."
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