Pic accounts for over half of Thursday's pre-sold tix

It’ll be anything but a sleepy weekend for Warner Bros. as the studio raises the curtain on its much-anticipated dreamy fantasy “Inception,” which bows today at 3,792 locations, including 197 Imax runs. The film is expected to open strongly, but some B.O. observers question whether the pic’s unusual storytelling style will limit its appeal over the long haul.

Still, with “Inception” accounting for more than half of Thursday’s pre-sold tickets, according to online ticketing service Fandango, the Christopher Nolan-helmed, Leonardo DiCaprio starrer is sure to mine plenty of moolah at multiplexes this weekend.

Disney kick-started the weekend early with a Wednesday bow for its Nicolas Cage-starrer “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Pic debuted to a moderate $3.9 million at 3,385 locations, well behind Wednesday’s $7.2 million take for 3D toon “Despicable Me.” “Apprentice” expands to 3,504 locations today.

“Inception” and “Apprentice” both debut day-and-date in limited overseas rollouts, as the U.K. reps the only major market for “Inception” and “Apprentice” in just 10% of the international market, including Argentina and Russia.

A slew of specialty pics, led by Focus’ “The Kids Are All Right” and Fox Searchlight’s “Cyrus,” expand Stateside today in an effort to raise the indie B.O. bar. Last weekend, “Kids” scored the year’s highest per-screen average to date, with $70,282 at seven locations. “Kids” expands to 38 engagements this weekend, while “Cyrus” continues an aggressive rollout at 446.

“Inception,” which screened at approximately 2,000 midnight runs Thursday, marks Nolan’s first pic since the 2008 blockbuster “The Dark Knight,” which did a boffo $905 million worldwide.

Warner and Legendary Pictures — a co-producer and co-financier of “Inception” — have made ample use of the Nolan brand in marketing “Inception,” hoping to draw from the helmer’s “Dark Knight” fanbase.

“People know Chris Nolan,” said Dan Fellman, Warner prexy of domestic distribution. “He’s got his own fanbase.”

Nolan also wrote the pic about a team of specialists, led by DiCaprio, who are trained to steal secrets buried deep within a person’s subconscious. Pic co-stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy.

Tracking is strongest with young males, an ideal fit for the pic’s Imax presentation, “Inception” also should translate to older auds. Most early reviews have praised the pic for its originality, however, others have noted the film might be too intricate for some moviegoers. “The film is easier to admire than to fully grasp or be moved by it,” USA Today noted in its review.

Still, Fellman said the $160 million-budgeted pic should gain steam in repeat frames. “Good movies will rise to the occasion and people will go see them no matter where they live,” he said.

Disney’s front-loaded launch for “Apprentice,” originally skedded for Friday, was moved up to attract kids and very likely to get it out of the way of “Inception.” “Apprentice’s” sluggish start could mean troubling news for the film this weekend. Based on Disney’s classic sorcerer sketch in the animated-musical “Fantasia,” “Apprentice” reunites Cage with “National Treasure” franchise director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Family auds could turn out for U’s “Despicable Me” in its second frame. Toon, which benefited from a strategic marketing push, performed well beyond expectations last weekend, with $56.4 million domestically. “Despicable” played tops during midweek frames, and given positive reactions to the film’s 3D format, toon could hold well in repeat perfs.

Twentieth Century Fox’s sci-fi reboot “Predators” also enters its soph sesh after a healthy debut last weekend. The pic, which stars Adrien Brody and is directed by Antal, overperformed with $24.8 million.

In limited release, “Kids” and “Cyrus” will be joined by Music Box’s expansion of Swedish thriller “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” adding 32 U.S. locations in its second outing. Last weekend, “Girl” debuted at 85 engagements, with an impressive per-screen average of $9,058.

IFC launches today Scandanavian epic “Valhalla Rising,” from director Nicolas Winding Refn, at one location, while Oscilloscope’s “Kisses,” toplining Stephen Rea, bows at two engagements.

On the international front, Fox’s “Knight and Day” expands to 19 additional markets, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Mexico. Pic has cumed $40.5 million internationally as of July 12.

Disney’s “Toy Story 3,” which has totaled $221.2 million overseas, expands to France this weekend, while Summit’s latest “Twilight” installment, “Eclipse,” continues its international barrage, rolling out in Germany. “Eclipse” has totaled a boffo $219 million in 62 territories.

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