Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

Moving on, it’s now pretty much official that Disney and maximalist producer Jerry Bruckheimer”s muddled attempt to market an update of a true cartoon classic as somewhere between Harry Potter and a teen comedy-action flick aimed failed to produce the desired result. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opened two days early to try and get a jump on the competition but, even if you include the Wednesday and Thursday grosses, it still comes in several million behind this week’s holdover #2 film.

The magicks of Nicholas Cage and Alfred Molina prove inadequate to boost

As per Box Office Mojo, the fantasy/action flick earned an estimated $17.373 million for the weekend and a total that is looking to be $24.461 million for the entire five days. Everyone seems to be touting this as another major defeat for Bruckheimer in the wake of the equally predictable non-success of “Prince of Persia.”

It certainly looks like a pale result if you compare it to #2 “Despicable Me.”  The animated comedy scored a very nice $37.731 million estimate and dropped by 42% from its opening, which seems to be par for the course now of second weeks for successful CG cartoons  like this. If things run true to form, the drops should get significantly smaller after this.

On Friday I promised I’d take a look at too notable smaller releases that expanded this weekend, and the news is good for two mostly well-liked films with absolutely minuscule budgets by mainstream Hollywood standards. The battle for this week’s highest per screen average wasn’t even close. “The Kids Are Alright” was the #12 movie this week and earned an average of  $27,026 on thirty eight screens (up from seven its opening week) which meant that it crossed the $1 million threshold. That might not sound like such a big thing, but when you realize that steady grosses and a very likely Oscar nominations could stretch the theatrical life of this film and then give it a big boost on DVD, and that it’s already earned back more than a quarter of it’s teeny-tiny $4 million budget, it’s champagne dreams and caviar wishes — or is it caviar wishes and champagne dreams — for Focus Features, Lisa Cholodenko and the famous cast.

Moreover, there is no need to cry for “Cyrus.” It’s per-screen average was vastly smaller than “Kids,” a relatively anemic $2,410 per sceen, but considering it was on over 400 more screens and has been out for five weeks now, that’s not so bad . It was the #11 movie in the nation and earned $1.075 million, for a total so far of over $5.065 million, edging ever closer to its reported $7 million budget. On the other hand Peter Knegt is probably correct that it’s peaked and will not head into “Little Miss Sunshine” territory like its competition just might. That result, however, begs the question of why this movie cost $3 million more than Cholodenko’s character-driven dramatic comedy. Maybe it was the chiropractic work on co-director/camera-operator Jay Duplass for all those unmotivated whip-pans.

There was, however, one pretty abject failure in indie films this week. The move to go semi-wide with a horribly reviewed apparent late attempt to cash in on the “High School Musical” craze called “Standing Ovation” backfired with the film earning a pitiful $361,000 in 623 theaters ($579 per screen) on its opening weekend. If anyone gave it an actual standing ovation, they were standing alone.

  

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