This weekend something tantamount to a miracle happened. Two new movies were released-- one very smart and new, one very dumb and familiar-- and it was actually the smart one that became a hit. Not only did Inception bring in a solid $60.4 million-- especially impressive for an original story-- but its primary competition The Sorcerer's Apprentice tanked mightily, earning just $17.3 million. It was even better than what I hoped for when I begged you all last week to go see Inception, painting it as our last great hope for original, inventive blockbuster filmmaking in a world full of remakes and sequels.
So now we've got what we wanted. Inception is a hit that's poised to be even bigger thanks to great word of mouth, and Jerry Bruckheimer has produced his second flop of the summer after Prince of Persia. It's a great place to be, but a dangerous one too; it's not too late to screw things up and send us right back to Transformers 8 territory. At this point the ball is very much in Hollywood's court, as they try to translate what Inception's box office performance actually means and how they can capitalize on it. But here are five things to watch going forward that will let us know if Inception's success will actually impact the future of blockbusters. No it's not all going to be good-- the cheap knockoffs and the attempts to add pop psychology to pedestrian thrillers will make the Matrix ripoffs look clever by comparison-- but if you want Inception to have an impact in the coming years, you'll have to take the good with the bad.
$60 million is a strong bow for a non-sequel, but it's certainly not enough to recoup Inception's $180 million budget. To do that the movie will need the kind of legs that Avatar showed when it opened at $77 million last December and went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. No, there's no chance Inception will be that successful, but if it manages to keep performing well it will go from being "good for a non-sequel" to an across-the-board hit, and paired with Avatar, might convince studios not to rely so heavily on opening weekend grosses and dare to make movies that might, you know, actually be good.
Your job: Tell your friends to go, go now, and go again. You're smart enough to read this site, so they should trust what you have to say.
The online conversation.
At Cinema Blend we're gotten to witness some fascinating Inception conversations, from our sprawling attempt to explain all the mysteries (958 comments and counting!) to Rich's look at the movie through Freudian archetype. I haven't seen our readers so engaged with a movie since, well, The Dark Knight, and we all know much of that movie's success came from people seeing it over and over again, looking for more answers on the next viewing. While Inception's box office will tell us how many people are still seeing it, the detailed conversations online will tell about the repeat customers, who are something like the holy grail for a studio that isn't making a few bucks extra off 3D this time.
Your job: If you liked Inception, see it again to keep up on the conversation. It's only getting more interesting as more and more people see it again.
The Angelina Jolie spy thriller opening this weekend may seem positioned directly against Inception, threatening to bring in audiences who weren't into all the mind-bending and dream-warping and just want a straight-ahead summer movie to entertain them instead. But Salt is a bit of a maverick itself, casting a female in a role originally written for a man, and filmed like a throwback to straightforward 90s spy movies like A Clear and Present Danger. Most importantly, it's an original story, and an attempt to start a franchise with a brand-new character-- all things we can hope Hollywood will support in the wake of Inception. While Salt may eat into Inception's box office next weekend and is a much more digestible kind of summer blockbuster, its success could act as a kind of one-two punch against carbon-copy Hollywood filmmaking.
Your job: Support Salt too. As a bonus, it's actually pretty good.
The trade news from here.
Or, if you're not into deciphering lingo and reading endless lists of co-producers, just read Cinema Blend, where we do our best to sift through which projects are getting greenlit and which books are getting optioned in order to determine actual trends. We'll be keeping a particular eye on which projects seem to be popping up in the wake of Inception-- cerebral thrillers, maybe, or sci-fi movies with a psychological twist, or even movies described as "inception meets ____," because you know that will pop up inevitably. It will be even more interesting if we start seeing similar projects coming from other high-profile directors-- not necessarily movies like Inception, but passion projects with a large budgets that directors with clout can fight harder for now that Inception is a hit. And if none of these start happening, we'll know the movie didn't have the impact we hoped for after all.
Your job: Keep reading, keep being engaged, and recognize that not all of Inception's influence is going to be positive.
I'll be honest, I'm not exactly sure how we're going to be able to read into the progress on this film. Christopher Nolan has been able to put off questions about the third Batman over the last two years by focusing on Inception, but now that that particular cat is out the bag, it's time to start looking for actual news about the final installment of his Batman trilogy. Expectations are through the roof for this one, and Nolan has been in the position to do whatever he wants on this film even before Inception, but the success of his brainy little movie can only bolster his plans for the next one. We were all hoping for more originality all along, but in the wake of Inception I think we can count on Nolan to rewrite the superhero rulebook even more than he did with The Dark Knight.
Your job: Aim higher than Joseph Gordon-Levitt as The Riddler, or whatever other rumors you've heard so far. As a wise man once said, you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.