Box-Office Weekend: Inception Shakes Salt

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Columbia Pictures

Angelina Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt in Salt

Superspy Angelina Jolie may be able to outsmart, outrun and outfight hundreds of American cops and Russian goons, but she couldn't outgross reigning secret agent Leonardo DiCaprio. In the battle of two favorably reviewed, mind-bending, PG-13 action adventures starring 35-year-old actors who've been in movies for at least half their lives, DiCaprio's Inception earned $43.5 million vs. the $36.5 million tallied by Jolie's Salt, according to early studio estimates. That made Inception a two-week winner, with a 10-day total of $143.7 million. And since this weekend's take registered a mere 31% drop from its $62.8 million opening frame, Warner Bros. can feel secure that its heavy investment in Christopher Nolan's Mensa-level caper film will pay off.

Still, Jolie added significant spice to the summer season. Carrying a big, burly drama with little co-star support (Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the male leads, aren't the most familiar marquee names) and proudly performing many of the film's truck-hopping, elevator-vault-dropping stunts, she certified her status as the only female star who can make an action film a hit. The movie also proved that there's Hollywood currency to a spy story that pulls its international villain from a cartel that no longer exists — the former Soviet Union — and its title from a '70s acronym (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) for an attempt at U.S.-Soviet détente. The picture looks to be a hit, and it wouldn't be surprising if the film's screenwriter, Kurt Wimmer, is already thinking about Salt II.

Another supervillain landed in third place: Gru, the gruff meanie voiced by Steve Carell in the animated comedy Despicable Me. (Carell should have two films in the top five next weekend, when his live-action Dinner with Schmucks opens.) Despicable Me's $161.7 million gross after 2½ weeks is pretty impressive, but it's still more than $200 million behind the gross of Toy Story 3. The Pixar threequel is now the second highest-earning animated feature in history, and it has a slim chance of challenging Shrek 2 ($441.2 million domestic gross) for the all-time cartoon champ.

With kids still flocking to Despicable Me and Toy Story 3, few were enticed by the live-action children's film Ramona and Beezus, based on the Beverly Cleary novels. R&B took in a disappointing $8 million in its opening weekend, for sixth place; its $2,942 per-screen average was less than that of either of the animated favorites. The Last Airbender, another adventure aimed at children — but whose production cost was 10 times R&B's $15 million — finished ninth.

In the indie and foreign microcosmos, The Kids Are All Right burst into semiwide release (201 theaters), earning $2.6 million, giving the post-nuclear-family comedy nearly $5 million after just 17 days in theaters. That's boffo for a small film; its $13,174 per-screen average topped both Inception's and Salt's. But it's been a good summer for indies: the acclaimed drama Winter's Bone has amassed $3.6 million, while the quirky not-exactly-a-documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop has taken in more than $3 million. In its first three days at a single Manhattan theater, the bizarro-superbo Life During Wartime earned more than $30,000 and, its distributor told IndieWire's Peter Knegt, "played to sold-out shows all weekend." Could this be the early clue to a sizable gross for writer-director Todd Solondz, indie cinema's most ornery genius? Fingers crossed.

Foreign-language films too have found audiences: The Girl Who Played with Fire, second in the trilogy of Swedish films adapted from Stieg Larsson's Millennium best sellers, has grossed $2.9 million in just its third week, and the Italian-language romance I Am Love has passed the $3 million mark. Its leading lady, Tilda Swinton, may not lure all the fanboys to her movies, but in emotional sinew and daredevil acting, she's every bit the equal of big Hollywood stars — the art-house Angelina Jolie.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by

1. Inception, $43.5 million; $143.7 million, second week
2. Salt, $36.5 million, first weekend
3. Despicable Me, $24.1 million; $161.7 million, third week
4. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, $9.7 million; $42.6 million, second week
5. Toy Story 3, $9 million; $379.5 million, sixth week

6. Ramona and Beezus, $8 million, first weekend
7. Grown Ups, $7.6 million; $142.4 million, fifth week
8. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, $7 million; $297.7 million, fourth week
9. The Last Airbender, $4.2 million; $123.3 million, fourth week
10. Predators, $2.9 million; $46.6 million, third week