Movie projector: ‘Salt’ to challenge ‘Inception’ in tight box-office race

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A sprinkling of “Salt” may be enough to push “Inception” out of the top box-office spot this weekend.

Sony Pictures’ new action thriller starring Angelina Jolie is likely to sell $35 million to $40 million worth of tickets on its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen pre-release audience polling. A Sony spokesman said the studio was expecting a softer start, in the low-$30-million range.


Meanwhile, after a strong $62.8-million debut, Warner Bros.’ “Inception,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Christopher Nolan, has enjoyed very strong weekday ticket sales, reaching a total of $91.6 million by Wednesday. Word of mouth on “Inception” has been very good, particularly among younger moviegoers.

As a result, the complex action-drama about dreams within dreams should see a modest decline of about 40% or less, which would put it in the same $35-million to $40-million range expected for “Salt.”

Co-financed by Relativity Media, ‘Salt’ cost about $130 million to produce, according to a person familiar with the matter, though a Sony spokesman said tax credits brought the final budget down to less than $110 million.

It’s Sony’s only big-budget event film this summer, though the studio had a surprise hit last month with its lower-cost remake of “The Karate Kid.” As such, the studio has aggressively promoted ‘Salt’ with an ad campaign that focuses on the mystery surrounding Jolie’s character, a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy.

The movie has received largely positive reviews.

As the rare action movie with a female protagonist, “Salt” is enjoying higher interest among adult women in pre-release surveys than is typical for the genre.

The most important question for the picture, however, is how it will perform overseas. Jolie is one of the few remaining A-list stars who’s hugely popular around the world. Her last two starring roles in action movies, “Wanted” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” both generated about 60% of their box-office revenue overseas and Sony is expecting returns for “Salt” to be similarly strong abroad.

“Salt” opens in only a few foreign countries this weekend, including India and Hong Kong, and will then roll out in other countries over the next few months.

“Inception” debuts in several key international markets this weekend, including France, Japan and Mexico.

The other movie opening nationwide in the U.S. this weekend is “Ramona and Beezus,” based on the classic children’s book series by Beverly Cleary. Released by 20th Century Fox and co-financed by Walden Media, the low-cost family film appears to have light audience interest and is expected to open to less than $10 million.

--Ben Fritz

Top photo: Angelina Jolie in ‘Salt.’ Credit: Andrew Schwartz / Sony Pictures. Bottom photo: Selena Gomez and Joey King in ‘Ramona and Beezus.’ Credit: Alan Markfield / 20th Century Fox.