UPDATE 2-‘Inception’ leads box office, ‘Apprentice’ flops

* “Inception” earns $60.4 million in No. 1 debut

* Sci-fi thriller also No. 1 in Britain

* “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” a big flop for Disney
(updates with foreign sales data, background and analysis on
“Inception”)

LOS ANGELES, July 18 (BestGrowthStock) – So what if “Inception” is
incomprehensible?

The costly sci-fi thriller opened at No. 1 at the weekend
box office in North America on Sunday, pulling in $60.4 million
from moviegoers happy to be vexed by one of the few big
original pictures of the summer, according to estimates issued
by distributor Warner Bros. Pictures.

The weekend’s other big new release failed to whip up any
magic amid poor reviews. Nicolas Cage’s “The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice” bombed at No. 3 with just $17.4 million in weekend
ticket sales.

Last weekend’s champion, the family cartoon “Despicable
Me,” slipped to No. 2 with $32.7 million.

“Inception,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who
steals secrets from deep within people’s subconscious, was
written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the English
filmmaker responsible for the last two “Batman” movies. It set
a new personal best for DiCaprio, surpassing the $41 million
start for “Shutter Island” in February.

Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc. (TWX.N: ), partnered
on the $160 million project with studio-based financier
Legendary Pictures, and they spent more than $100 million on
the marketing. Pundits had forecast an opening in the $50
million to $60 million range.

The film also earned $15.6 million from seven foreign
markets, led by a first-place, $8.6 million opening in Britain.
The film adds 29 countries next weekend.

“IMPERVIOUS TO CRITICISM”

Critics heaped praise on “Inception,” even if many of them
were not exactly sure what it was about, or advised that it
might require multiple viewings.

In a caustic review, the Wall Street Journal suggested the
film was “impervious to criticism, simply because no one short
of a NASA systems analyst will be able to articulate the
plot.”

Nolan, who turns 40 later this month, came up with the idea
of “Inception” a decade ago, citing a fascination with the
relationship of people’s waking and dreaming lives.

Warner Bros. said the movie played strongest with those
aged 18 to 34, with exit polling data “above the norms.” Men
accounted for 56 percent of the audience, and the movie did
better in the major cities.

“It’s a smart film, and if you’re a smart person you’ve got
to put on your seat belt and enjoy the ride,” said Dan Fellman,
the studio’s president of domestic distribution.

He predicted the film would hit $300 million in sales in
North America. The biggest release of the year so far is “Toy
Story 3” with $363 million.

That film leads a long list of recent releases that are
either sequels, remakes or adaptations, such as “Alice in
Wonderland,” “Iron Man 2,” “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” “Shrek
Forever After” and “The Karate Kid.”

While all-time box office behemoth “Avatar” showed that
audiences will flock to original concepts, the Hollywood
studios increasingly prefer to greenlight big-budget movies
based on videogames, novels, comic books and earlier films.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a live-action fantasy inspired
by a sequence in Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N: ) 1940 classic
“Fantasia,” marks a big disappointment for the studio, which
spent $150 million making it.

After getting a two-day head start by opening on Wednesday,
the film has earned $24.5 million to date. Pundits had forecast
a $30 million haul for the first five days.

“There’s no question we’re disappointed in the result,”
said Chuck Viane, Disney’s president of domestic theatrical
distribution.

The film also earned a modest $8.3 million from 13 foreign
markets, led by a No. 1 debut in Russia with $4.8 million.

“Despicable Me” has earned $118.4 million in North America
after 10 days, said distributor Universal Pictures, a unit of
General Electric Co. (GE.N: ). Its foreign total rose to $11.3
million from seven markets; Russia has contributed $7.2 million
to sales in 11 days.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Paul Simao)

UPDATE 2-‘Inception’ leads box office, ‘Apprentice’ flops