Easily the most anticipated non-sequel release of the summer, Inception breaks in to approximately 6,700 screens at 3,792 theaters this weekend (including a record IMAX release of 197 venues). The Sorcerer's Apprentice casts its spell at 3,504 locations, though its unimpressive grosses on Wednesday and Thursday don't bode well for its weekend prospects, while musical Standing Ovation counter-programs with a barely-nationwide 623-theater launch.
Exactly two years ago, The Dark Knight set the opening weekend record with $158.4 million on its way to becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of all-time. Instead of immediately following that up with another Batman movie, writer-director Christopher Nolan stepped away from the franchise to make Inception. Demonstrating their faith in Mr. Nolan, distributor Warner Bros. allotted the movie a massive budget in excess of $150 million and, similar to previous Warner events Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Dark Knight, scheduled it in a prime mid-July spot.
Inception has been relentlessly advertised over the past month. On television, it seems like nearly every commercial break includes an action-packed, visually-stunning spot that clearly emphasizes that the movie is from the director of The Dark Knight. This push came after a year-long campaign that gradually introduced audiences to the world of Inception. Warner Bros. also focused their marketing on convincing audiences that, in a summer of disappointments, Inception could actually live up to the hype. The studio lifted their critical embargo nearly two weeks prior to Inception's release, which resulted in an initial flurry of overwhelmingly positive reviews, though that was followed by a reasonable degree of backlash. At the very least, all of this has caused Inception to be one of the most widely discussed movies of the summer prior to its release.
Inception grossed $3 million in its midnight start, which is slightly below Star Trek ($4 million) and Avatar ($3.5 million). Inception is tracking ahead of both of those movies in Box Office Mojo's reader polling, though, as 68.9 percent voted to see Inception on its opening weekend. In fact, this is the best percentage for any non-sequel since the start of Box Office Mojo's polling nearly six years ago, trailing only the likes of The Dark Knight (76.9 percent) and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (72 percent). Now, Inception hits a bullseye with readers' interests, but it is clear that the movie is poised for a big opening.
Presumably to get a jump on Inception, The Sorcerer's Apprentice opened Wednesday but generated a relatively meager $7.1 million in its first two days. This was almost identical to Knight & Day, which had a two-day opening of $7.3 million three weeks ago on its way to a $27.4 million five-day start.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice reunites the National Treasure team of Nicolas Cage, director Jon Turtletaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer for a modern-day reimagining of the classic Fantasia segment of the same name. As the two National Treasure movies have made over $800 million worldwide, this may have appeared to be the recipe for an easy hit. However, Mr. Cage is very hit-or-miss, and Mr. Bruckheimer is coming off Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ($89.2 million), which is one of the biggest domestic disappointments of his career (the movie has been sizable overseas, though).
Box Office Mojo polling indicates that business isn't going to pick up too much for The Sorcerer's Apprentice: only 17.1 percent of readers voted that they would see the movie opening weekend, which is incredibly low for a fantasy movie. It's also way below National Treasure: Book of Secrets (36.8 percent) and slightly down from the first National Treasure (19.1 percent).
Also opening this weekend is Standing Ovation, which is clearly targeted at fans of TV musical sensation Glee. This is distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures first nationwide release in over two years, and marketing has had a young female focus.