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Box office preview: Can 'Salt' overthrow 'Inception'?

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angelina-jolie-saltImage Credit: Andrew SchwartzHow refreshing! Inception, a challenging, beautifully directed, impeccably acted drama has broken through the clutter of summer and is on the verge of collecting $100 million in only nine days of release. Its second weekend in theaters is sure to be strong, but will it hold high enough to keep Angelina Jolie’s spy caper Salt out of first place? It’s going to be a battle, but with both films likely to gross in the $35-$40 million range, it only portends good things for the movie business. Unfortunately, the other new release of the weekend, Ramona and Beezus, is unlikely to do much business. The G-rated family comedy, which based on the terrifically popular books by Beverly Cleary, has a built-in audience of young girls and their mothers who grew up on the once-timely stories, but it doesn’t look like there’s been much of a demand created in the marketplace for this movie.

1. Salt: $38 million

Jolie, who replaced Tom Cruise as the star of the film before shooting began, is the one action star both men and women like watching kick ass. So it’s no wonder that Salt is tracking well. It’s unlikely to open with the $50 million that both Wanted and Mr. and Mrs. Smith earned back in 2008 and 2005, respectively. Still, if she gets close to the $40 million that’s being predicted, she’ll cement her status as one of the remaining few bankable movie stars.

2. Inception: $35 million

Expect a 45 percent drop on Christopher Nolan’s dream-centric thriller. Audiences have been thrilled by the film, leading to really strong word-of-mouth and repeat viewings for those that didn’t get all the nuance of the film the first time around. The movie should hit at least $120 million by the end of the weekend.

3. Despicable Me: $19 million

This Steve Carell-voiced animated hit fell a scant 40 percent last weekend. Ramona and Beezus isn’t going to be much competition for Despicable in its third weekend, so I’d expect another 40 percent fall-off for the frame, which will put the film from Illumination Entertainment in the $150 million category after only three weeks in theaters.

4. Ramona and Beezus: $10 million

I’m just not sure who’s going to see this movie. The G-rated kid flick starring newcomer Joey King and pop star Selena Gomez is clearly appealing to the younger set. But with its 100-minute run time, it’s too long and talky for the under-6 set, and too wholesome and sweet for the tween crowd. That leaves a narrow 6-9-year-old demographic, which really isn’t enough for a solid opening. And with what feels like not a lot of support from Fox’s marketing department, the movie may disappear very quickly. It’s a shame, considering how long its taken for Beverly Cleary to allow her fantastic stories to be adapted for film.

5. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: $7 million

Disney must be banking on Nicolas Cage’s overseas appeal after the domestic audience stayed away from his film last weekend. The midweeks haven’t been very strong either, and the film’s total stands at $29 million as of Tuesday. Expect a 60 percent fall-off from the film’s opening weekend take of $17.6 million, way too little for a film that cost over $150 million.

In limited release, Magnolia Pictures will open the documentary Countdown to Zero about the current dangers we face from nuclear weapons, while IFC bows Todd Solondz’ latest polemic Life During Wartime.