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Inception Box Office: Rare Original ‘Adult-Oriented’ Summer Blockbuster

Inception Leonardo DiCaprio Christopher NolanInception with Leonardo DiCaprio and director Christopher Nolan. An unusual summer blockbuster, the “adult-oriented” sci-fi thriller has generally received positive notices. Even so, not everyone is a fan.
  • Inception box office: Christopher Nolan’s original, “adult-oriented” mix of brainy science fiction, fast-paced action, and sentimental drama is on its way to becoming one of the year’s biggest blockbusters. Leonardo DiCaprio stars.
  • Two other box office winners: Angelina Jolie in Phillip Noyce’s spy thriller Salt and Universal’s animated feature Despicable Me. Box office losers include the Steve Carell-Paul Rudd comedy Dinner for Schmucks, the Zac Efron weepy Charlie St. Cloud, and the Nicolas Cage fantasy The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
  • Somewhere in between: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right, which is not about to become the lesbian Brokeback Mountain.

Inception box office: Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan’s dream-hopping sci-fi thriller is a rarity among rarities

July 30–Aug. 1 weekend box office: Featuring an all-star cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio, writer-director Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller Inception – the filmmaker’s first release since his mammoth 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight – was the no. 1 movie for the third consecutive weekend at the North American (U.S. and Canada) box office, grossing $27.5 million (down 36 percent). Total to date: $193.3 million.

Reportedly budgeted at $160 million (as always, not including marketing and distribution costs), the Warner Bros. release should cross the domestic $200 million milestone in the next day or so, eventually hitting the $250 million mark. It remains to be seen, however, whether Inception will have enough steam to reach $300 million domestically.

Each weekend Nolan’s movie has been losing about one-third of its business. If that pattern continues, Inception will earn about $17–$19 million next weekend and $11–$12 million the weekend after. From then on, fewer and fewer locations will be showing it, which will mean even steeper drop-off rates. That’s why the $300 million milestone looks iffy.

‘Original’ & ‘adult-oriented’ summer blockbuster

Of course, whether or not Inception reaches $300 million – or even $250 million – in the domestic market, it’s a notable release all the same. In fact, it’s a rarity among rarities when it comes to summer blockbusters:

  • It’s an original (not a sequel, not a remake, not based on another property) live-action movie.
  • It’s a potential Best Picture Academy Award contender.
  • And – whether or not you find its core “message” profoundly moving or appallingly asinine – Inception is, at least in conception, an “adult-oriented” effort.

Besides three-time Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception features an all-around Oscar-pedigreed cast: Winners Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, 2007) and Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986; The Cider House Rules, 1999); and nominees Ellen Page (Juno, 2007), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, 2003), Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father, 1993), and Tom Berenger (Platoon, 1986).

In addition to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, and Lukas Haas.

Inception fails to reach $300 million in the U.S. & Canada

Update: Inception crossed the $200 million milestone on Day 19 (Aug. 3) and the $250 million milestone on Day 32 (Aug. 16). Ultimately, Christopher Nolan’s thriller grossed $292.6 million domestically and $533.6 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $826.1 million.

Among 2010 releases in the U.S. and Canada, Inception was one of 10 titles to earn more than $200 million and one of eight to earn more than $250 million. It was also one of two Best Picture Oscar nominees (along with Toy Story 3) and the only original live-action movie to reach either milestone.

Internationally, Inception’s top markets (including re-releases in 2013, 2017, and 2020) were China ($71.3 million), the United Kingdom ($57.1 million), France ($43.4 million), Japan ($42.1 million), South Korea ($38.9 million), Germany ($36.9 million), Australia ($36.6 million), Spain ($22.2 million), Russia/CIS ($21.9 million), Italy ($15.5 million), and Brazil ($11.9 million).

Dinner for Schmucks Paul RuddDinner for Schmucks with Paul Rudd. After trailing Inception on its debut weekend, Jay Roach’s lowbrow comedy costarring Steve Carell went on to become a box office underperformer both domestically and internationally.

Steve Carell & Paul Rudd offer unappetizing Dinner for Schmucks

Also this past weekend, Paramount/DreamWorks’ Jay Roach-directed Dinner for Schmucks, which stars The 40 Year Old Virgin actors Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, took in a more modest than expected $23.5 million from 2,911 venues – pundits had been predicting $27–$30 million. The top movie on Friday, this Hollywood remake of Francis Veber’s 1998 French hit The Dinner Game lost ground to the dreamworld of Inception during the weekend proper.

For comparison’s sake: Starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, Shawn Levy’s Date Night opened with $25.2 million last April and has taken in $98.5 million in the domestic market. Dinner for Schmucks’ box office longevity, however, could be curtailed by competition from other lowbrow fare like the upcoming Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg cop action comedy The Other Guys.

A $69 million production, Dinner for Schmucks has a mediocre 47 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics. Also in the cast: Jemaine Clement, Jeff Dunham, and Bruce Greenwood.

Update: As it turned out, Dinner for Schmucks was a commercial disappointment, collecting $73 million domestically and a measly $13.8 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $86.8 million.

Weepy Zac Efron star vehicle Charlie St. Cloud makes Universal cry

Faring even worse than Dinner for Schmucks was the Zac Efron weepy Charlie St. Cloud, a Burr Steers-directed Universal release that debuted in fifth place (also trailing Salt and Despicable Me) with a paltry $12.4 million from 2,718 sites.

But who knows, Zac Efron’s international fans may come to the rescue of this $44 million production. After all, they did provide a boost to the Steers-Efron collaboration 17 Again ($72 million overseas) and to the sleeper hit High School Musical 3: Senior Year ($162 million overseas). One assumes that Universal, which has had its share of box office duds this yearRobin Hood, Green Zone, The Wolfman, Leap Year, Repo Men – is ardently hoping they will.

Now, comparisons between Charlie St. Cloud and the Robert Pattinson romantic drama Remember Me – which opened to $8 million in early March – aren’t exactly apt. The latter was a $16 million production; a “little movie” that received a wide opening (2,212 theaters) via the mid-sized Summit Entertainment merely on the strength of Pattinson’s Twilight Saga popularity.

Update: This time around, Zac Efron’s fans were (almost) nowhere to be found, as Charlie St. Cloud ultimately took in $31.2 million domestically and an embarrassing $17 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $48.2 million. A sizable flop in relation to its cost.

The Kids Are All Right Annette Bening Julianne MooreThe Kids Are All Right with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore: Lesbian moms meet the man of their nightmares.

The Kids Are All Right box office: Domestic expansion hits wall

Starring Oscar nominees Annette Bening (Being Julia, 2004; etc.) and Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven, 2002; etc.) as lovers, and Mark Ruffalo as the slob who happens to be the biological father of the lesbian couple’s children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), cowriter-director Lisa Cholodenko’s generally well-regarded comedy-drama The Kids Are All Right took in $3.5 million this past weekend, bringing its cume to $9.6 million after four weekends.

That’s not bad at all for a $4 million production – admittedly, not including marketing and distribution costs, which must have been steeper than usual for such a “small” movie.

The bad news: Now that it has expanded from 201 to 841 theaters, the Focus Features release has experienced a dramatic drop in its per-theater average, plummeting from $12,909 to $4,162.

Lesbian family comedy-drama vs. gay cowboy romance

For comparison’s sake: When Focus’ Ang Lee-directed Brokeback Mountain – starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboyish lovers – expanded to 683 theaters on weekend no. 6 (early January 2006), its per-theater average remained an impressive $8,499. By then, the romantic Western had already amassed $30.8 million.

As it stands, The Kids Are All Right may still have room for some further expansion, but a more modest one and not for very long. In fact, there’s no chance that it will get even close to matching the success of Brokeback Mountain – Focus’ top commercial hit to date – which raked in $83.4 million (not adjusted for inflation) domestically.

Update: Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Annette Bening), The Kids Are All Right ultimately collected $20.8 million domestically and $13.9 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $34.7 million.

Its top international market was the United Kingdom ($2.6 million).

Salt Angelina JolieSalt with Angelina Jolie.

Angelina Jolie spy thriller Salt has strong domestic debut

July 23–25 weekend box office: For the second weekend in a row, Inception was the top movie at the North American box office, grossing $42.7 million (down a relatively modest 32 percent).

The no. 2 movie was Phillip Noyce’s spy thriller Salt, which opened with a solid $36 million from 3,612 venues. Starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted, 1999), Salt will surely hit the $100 million mark domestically, but considering its opening numbers it’s all but impossible for it to recover its hefty budget – $110 million – at U.S. and Canadian theaters alone.

And that’s why the international market exists. Or rather, it’s the other way around: The international market is the reason – or at least a key reason – for the existence of big-budget Hollywood productions like Salt.

Something else: After a worrisome late spring, the domestic box office was up 8 percent in relation to a year ago, when G-Force, The Ugly Truth and Orphan opened.

Also in the Salt cast: Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, and August Diehl.

Update: Salt ultimately collected $118.3 million domestically and $175.2 million internationally, for an impressive worldwide total of $293.5 million. Its top international market was South Korea ($18.2 million).

For comparison’s sake: Also starring Angelina Jolie (along with James McAvoy), Timur Bekmambetov’s 2008 action thriller Wanted grossed $134.5 million domestically and $208 million internationally. Worldwide total: $342.5 million.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is Nicolas Cage’s latest dud

July 16–18 weekend box office: On its debut weekend, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller Inception was the no. 1 movie with $62.8 million, including an estimated $3 million from Thursday midnight screenings.

Trailing both Inception and Despicable Me (last weekend’s champ brought in $32.8 million), Walt Disney Pictures’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice brought in $17.6 million from 3,504 locations. Having opened the previous Wednesday, the poorly received Jerry Bruckheimer production almost matched the studio’s expectations for its first five days out ($25 million), taking in a total of $24.7 million.

Sounds acceptable?

Minor detail: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice reportedly comes with a $150 million price tag. With some luck it’ll reach half that amount in the domestic market; international prospects are better for the special-effects-laden fantasy, but no wizard is powerful enough to make this Disney release profitable.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice stars Nicolas Cage – who, apart from the National Treasure flicks, has taken a box office beating of late (Bangkok Dangerous, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, etc.) – and How to Train Your Dragon voice actor Jay Baruchel.

Final worldwide box office figures

Update: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice ultimately collected $63.2 million domestically and $152.1 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $215.3 million.

That was hardly enough for Disney’s costly production to break even, but the international market did help to make The Sorcerer’s Apprentice less than an all-around commercial disaster.

Its top territories were Russia/CIS ($13.6 million), France ($12.9 million), and Japan ($10.6 million).

Universal finally has a hit: Despicable Me eclipses competition

July 9–11 weekend box office: Following a number of disappointments and outright bombs, Universal finally has a bona fide hit in its hands.

Despite a number of unenthusiastic reviews, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud’s animated 3D feature Despicable Me easily beat David Slade’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse at the domestic box office this past weekend, raking in a remarkable $56.4 million from 3,476 locations.

Bonus: Unlike fellow animated 3D features like Pixar/Disney’s Toy Story 3 and DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek Forever After and How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me was budgeted at “only” $69 million – or between half and one-third of the production cost of these other animated movies.

In the Despicable Me voice cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, and veteran Oscar winner Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, 1964).


Inception Box Office” endnotes

Unless otherwise noted, “Inception Box Office: Rare Original ‘Adult-Oriented’ Summer Blockbuster” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources.

Comments about Inception, Dinner for Schmucks, Charlie St. Cloud, The Kids Are All Right, Salt, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Despicable Me, and other titles being profitable or money-losers at the box office are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).

Bear in mind that contractual details and data regarding pre-sales, rebates, and other credits that help to split/alleviate production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for).

Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan Inception movie image: Stephen Vaughan | Warner Bros.

Paul Rudd Dinner for Schmucks image: Merie Weismiller | DreamWorks | Paramount Pictures.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore The Kids Are All Right movie image: Focus Features.

Angelina Jolie Salt movie image: Andrew Schwartz | Columbia Pictures.

Inception Box Office: Rare Original ‘Adult-Oriented’ Summer Blockbuster” last updated in May 2022.

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16 comments

gaby -

i loved dinner for schmucks!! it was a hilarious movie i loved it!!!!!!!!!!!! :]

Reply
Angela -

I really feel bad about Zac Efron! It does look like that Charlie St Cloud would become a flop. I just looked up other Romantic drama movies that came out earlier this year and their budget (Dear John: $25M; Remember Me: $16m; The Last Song: $20m). Charlie St Cloud was made in a $44m budget. Had this movie been made on a cheaper scale it would not be a flop!

On the other hand, it’s difficult to predict how those movies would do in the box office. I don’t think critics like any of those 4 movies.

Reply
dan cataldo -

Saw the movie first night, Great movie will see it again. Highly reccomend for the big screen. Director Christopher Nolan never disappoints.

Reply
Angela -

Perhaps Universal should just learn to make movies in a smaller budgets. Summit is laughing now because the Twilight movies, Remember Me and others are made on a cheaper scale (Summit did release a few flops this year such as Furry Vengeance, but I think it’s forgivable?). Universal, on the other hand, releases a few movies with decent box office numbers but they are still consider flops because of the prodcution costs. For example, Green Zone grosses $94m worldwide. Good right? But the production cost for that movie was $100m!

Reply
LilyCC -

The weirdest thing about this summer is that Eclipse and Toy Story will be the biggest hits, even though Salt and Inception have higher profile names and cost more money.

Reply
LilyCC -

Universal has had the most flops this year. Now that they’ve cleaned house they should hope to get a good script or series.

Reply
LilyCC -

I’ve heard it was awful. Scott Pilgrim comes out soon and Inception is still strong. I don’t see Dinner for Schmucks making $100 million. Steve C. has been typecast. He needs to pick a different role soon.

Reply
Cindy -

Happy to see that most sites are also refraining from comparing St. Cloud’s surprisingly weak BO #’s to Remember Me’s. Very different circumstances considering RM had little to no advertising and was a small budget indie drama. It was an outstanding movie and am very happy that it ended up being a $$ maker for Summit in the end.

Reply
ASFan -

Dinner for Schmucks is the kind of film that needed to be exceptional in order to have a shot at 100M. It isn’t exceptional, so I would be surprised if it made it to 100M. If Date Night couldn’t do it when it opened a bit higher, how could Dinner for Schmucks?

Reply
tattoo ideas -

I saw it yesterday and I must say that this is an amazing movie, very dinamic, you have no rest for ninety minutes straight and Anjelina Jolie is pretty amazing in it, as always! :)

Reply
Christopher Jennings -

I am happy for leonardo that his movie inception have led the movie list in ranking! The movie is really mind twisting!

Reply
H.L.S. -

Eclipse has made $624 million worldwide on a $65 million dollar budget. It has been out less than a month. Clearly it is the big winner of the summer. Inception cost over $160 million and is at about $230 million worldwide. It will never get to Eclipse numbers. Neither will Robin Hood, the A-Team, Salt, or many other big budget action films. This Summer will be know as the one where Toys, an African-American karate kid, and a girl’s choice between a vampire and a werewolf beat the big boys. Scott Pilgrim has hype but it will do Kickass numbers or less. There won’t be any more major hits until the holiday season when Tron and Harry Potter debut.

Reply
yessica -

Go to see Leo film,it’s is GREAT!!! I really hope it will top the box office this weekend!!

Reply
Wemberg -

I would like to thank the wonderful film “Inception”: Christopher Nolan, Tom Berenger,Ken Watanabe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy and the rest of the cast.

Thanks

Reply
Cameron -

I’m a 18 year and i understood Inception lol.

I thought it was one of the best movies of the year if not the past 5 years

Reply
MCP -

Inception isn’t going to be a huge box office champion because it’s too smart for most audiences and it’s not a sequel. Nolan did great with TDK because it was Batman. Without the recognizable Batman and Joker characters, that movie would have tanked. I liked Inception, but I think it will be lucky to make $200 million domestically. It may play better overseas.

Reply

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