Inside Pulse Box Office Report: Salt Tries to Unseat Inception

“I should have been #1 this weekend. Somebody is setting me up…to fail.”

It was a quiet weekend for new releases. Studios have adopted the idea to play nice with the competition when it comes to spacing out their major (or thought to be major) blockbusters during the summer calendar. Sometimes blockbusters don’t always go to plan. Many thought The Karate Kid would have a good opening weekend, though ultimately losing out to The A-Team. That didn’t happen. And I don’t think many were speculating Despicable Me to open as big as it did. The whole process is a crap shoot, really. A weekend in June saw four movies from 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Universal and Warner Bros. open up against each other the weekend between the releases of Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia as well as the already-mentioned Karate Kid and A-Team.

Last week, Warner Bros. had a big opening with Inception. This weekend it was Sony Pictures’ turn, as the studio tried to pull a hat trick and release a third movie this summer to an opening haul of at least $40 million. With no real competition opening against its action thriller Salt, starring the pouty lips of Angelina Jolie, how could it lose? She’s an actress that is compelling and versatile. People either like her or fear that if they don’t watch her movies opening weekend, they may be added to that vial of blood that she wears around her neck.

In a perfect world movies would have the freedom to open unopposed, but until that world arrives we have to settle for competition at the cineplex every now and again. This weekend was no exception. Leonardo DiCaprio proved to be a worthy adversary against Jolie as his film, Inception, had a tremendous second weekend, having the strongest legs of any live-action blockbuster released this summer. The film had just enough to repeat for a second weekend at number one. But it wasn’t just the fact that it only lost 30% of its audience, it’s that how positive the word-of-mouth has been. The mindbender from Christopher Nolan has had solid returns on the weekdays. It made $100 million in seven days and it hasn’t gone a day where it hasn’t made less than $8.5 million. Warner Bros. believed in Nolan’s idea when he pitched it to the studio back in 2002. Once he got some seasoning with the two Batman movies (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), Warner Bros. gave him the go-ahead to make his dream project (literally) a reality. And for his troubles he has been rewarded handsomely. Though, you know what this means, don’t you? It means that there will be a Hollywood suit somewhere that stops trying to find the next can’t-miss hit while perusing videos on YouTube and go, “Hey, let’s make more original films.” Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

$227 million worldwide already, Inception has yet to reach its full audience in foreign territories so there’s no telling where it will top out. As for Salt, the thriller about Cold War relic spies, it brought in an estimated $36.5 million, or $16.5 million more than Angelina Jolie’s salary. With a budget of $100 million it might be a good idea for “Brangelina” to have their kids buy multiple tickets to see mommy dye her hair black and learn how to use a taser if you are handcuffed in the backseat of a police vehicle. Not that that is likely to occur, but you never know. Dropping to third this weekend is Universal’s Despicable Me, an animated feature that is turning out to be one of the year’s biggest hits. Toons attract kids and the parents that bring them so they are a safe bet to bring in audiences. Unless the promotions team just botches the marketing.

With kids have a second or third fill of Steve Carell as a villain-sic-adoptive father, Walt Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice continues to get the cold shoulder. The movie isn’t awful, but in a crowded marketplace it was a victim of bad timing more than anything. It feels like it should have been a fall release, maybe a precursor to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is the second blockbuster calamity from Jerry Bruckheimer, who is looking to make franchises when he should worry about making movies. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice seems destined to be a recurring, lazy Sunday feature on TNT or FX.

Six weekends into its run, Toy Story 3 is proving that you can’t keep a good toy down. It’s twenty million short of reaching $400 million domestic, which it could achieve in three weeks if returns remain strong. Unless the next Harry Potter film just goes bonkers when it opens around Thanksgiving, pulling in more dough than One-Eyed Bart and the evil Dr. Porkchop, then Pixar should have no problems being the top domestic earner of the year. While Pixar dropped Newt and is developing sequels to Cars and Monsters Inc., maybe John Lasseter and the rest of creative can have some good REM sleep so that someone can plant some more original ideas (properties). Coming up just behind Toy Story 3 was the kid flick for the elementary schooler, Ramona and Beezus. Dropped into the summer schedule by Fox, the movie was inspired by the novels by Beverly Cleary and was also cheap to produce. It had a Kit Kittridge: An American Girl vibe to it, but Joey King isn’t quite in the same league as Abigail Breslin. Neither is Disney Channel teen celeb Selena Gomez.

Thirty-one days after its opening Grown Ups continues to post the lowest percentage drops in the top ten. Salt may have come up short this weekend for Sony, but Adam Sandler keeps the studio afloat producing comedies that pull in audiences. Sitting at $142 million, it needs another $21 million if it is to overtake Big Daddy as the most successful Sandler comedy to date. Rounding out the top ten are The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and The Last Airbender – the less said about them the better – and Robert Rodriguez’s Predators, which has been given the greenlight for a sequel.

Navigating to the arthouse side of the box office, The Kids Are All Right netted another $2.6 million from 201 locations. With a RottenTomatoes rating of 96% it is second only to Toy Story 3‘s 99% in the Top 20. Reviews have been good, but it doesn’t have a hook like Fox Searchlight’s Cyrus, which has made close to $7 million despite playing on less than 500 screens. I don’t see either suddenly taking off like Little Miss Sunshine, but Kids should get a boost on home video if it has any Oscar nominations in its future.

1. Inception – $43.5 million ($227 million worldwide)
2. Salt – $36.5 million
3. Despicable Me – $24.1 million ($162 million)
4. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – $9.7 million ($43 million)
5. Toy Story 3 – $9 million ($730 million worldwide)
6. Ramona and Beezus – $8 million
7. Grown Ups – $7.6 million ($142 million)
8. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse – $7 million ($568 million worldwide)
9. The Last Airbender – $4.2 million ($123 million)
10. Predators – $2.9 million ($95 million worldwide)

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