Box Office: Inception Schmacks the Schmucks

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Melissa Moseley / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception

The dream goes on. Inception won the weekend box office at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates. Christopher Nolan's labyrinthine thriller, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a team that invades a man's sleep patterns, earned $27.5 million in its third weekend. The film thus joins Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Shrek Forever After — all movies whose protagonists fall or leap into alternative-reality dream worlds — in 2010's three-time-winners' club. Inception should cross the $200 domestic mark by Tuesday, and has already taken in $170 million abroad.

The second-place finisher, Dinner for Schmucks, had been the top-grossing movie on Friday night, before tepid word-of-tweet (and a so-so B rating from CinemaScore's exiting moviegoers) alerted frequent filmgoers that the Steve Carell–Paul Rudd comedy was not an essential see. Schmucks should finish the weekend with $23.3 million, or almost as much as the combined take of the other two entries in wide release. The sequel Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore pulled in a kitten- or puppy-size $12.5 million, landing in fifth place. Maybe the hit cartoon Despicable Me, which earned $15.5 million in its fourth weekend, sucked too much helium out of the kids'-party balloon. Or maybe the fanciers of CGI-aided talking-canine comedies are saving their money for Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, due out later this year.

Charlie St. Cloud, the teen weepie starring High School Musical's Zac Efron, is expected to have tallied a dry-eyed $12.1 million in its first three days. It should replicate the modest earnings of this past March's Remember Me, another love story with a certified-dreamboat headliner (Twilight's Robert Pattinson), a dead brother and a four-hankie rating. Viewers showed less interest in getting moist-eyed with Zac than in revisiting burlier movies with older stars: the Angelina Jolie spy caper Salt, which finished third over the weekend, and Adam Sandler's Grown Ups, which in its sixth week has passed $150 million and is Sandler's most solid film since his remake of The Longest Yard in 2005.

The hot news on the indie-film circuit was the stellar opening for Get Low, starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray: it picked up $90,900, for the weekend's highest per-screen average. Meanwhile, The Kids Are All Right — the gay-moms-meet-their kids'-sperm-donor comedy that was anointed by critics as this summer's sleeper hit on a magnitude of Little Miss Sunshine — expanded from 201 to 847 screens but saw only a 33.5% jump in sales, to $3.4 million. The movie, which has earned $9.6 million after 24 days in release, actually dropped a notch in its weekend ranking, from 11th place last week to 12th. Kids hit the same multiplex wall that Cyrus, the dark comedy favored by mumblecore fans, smashed into when the wider audience realized that, hey, it wasn't about the star of Hannah Montana.

In other indie action — make that indie inaction, considering the paltry grosses — The Concert, a feel-sad/feel-good drama about a Russian conductor's life-changing visit to Paris, earned $20,121 in two theaters; The Extra Man, a quirky relationship comedy with Kevin Kline and Paul Dano, cadged $18,500, also on two screens; and the documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel took in $10,000 in its solo engagement. That means each of these films attracted fewer than 1,000 ticket buyers in the cities they opened in, despite heavy promotion (Kline snagged a guest spot on The Colbert Report), some glowing reviews and seemingly built-in niche audiences. Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, with some of the year's most glowing reviews — including this one — somehow managed to make less money in six theaters this weekend ($30,420) than it did in one theater last weekend ($30,507). We're not saying that mass appeal equals quality, but there's a point on the box office radar where indie becomes insignificant.

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

1. Inception, $27.5 million; $193.3 million, third week
2. Dinner for Schmucks, $23.3 million, first weekend
3. Salt, $19.25 million; $70.8 million, second week
4. Despicable Me, $15.5 million; $190.3 million, fourth week
5. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, $12.5 million, first weekend
6. Charlie St. Cloud, $12.1 million, first weekend
7. Toy Story 3, $5 million; $389.7 million, seventh week
8. Grown Ups, $4.5 million; $150.7 million, sixth week
9. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, $4.3 million; $51.9 million, third week
10. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, $4 million; $288.2 million, fifth week