Inception: Sci-Fi’s Last, Best Box-Office Hope?

This week, Christopher Nolan and company released 14 new stills from his sci-fi thriller Inception.

These photos might require a spoiler warning, but honestly, it’s not as if we’d know. Nolan has been tight-lipped about the project from the beginning. For months after its announcement, he would say only it was set “within the architecture of the mind.” Early promotional material was equally vague.

More recently, a set of character posters have given us a lineup straight out of a film-noir caper (with titles like Point Man, Shade, Forger, and Mark), and theatrical trailers have inevitably begun to give hints as to the plot.

We now know for sure that Inception is about this guy, and there are dreams, and a girl who is maybe dreaming or not, and you can take ideas out or put them in, and lobbies, and guys wearing suits well, and Marion Cotillard has expressive eyes, and also there are lots of hallways, and people sitting looking at each other, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt signed up for a lot of wire work, and some other stuff happens.

The thing is, in a movie landscape that’s been slowly starved of anything mildly cerebral, this movie is in a pretty precarious spot. It has a power director behind it, and an A-list cast, and what we’ve seen of the effects has been well-done and unexpected. However, part of the reason the plot is being kept vague is because Nolan has pitched this from the beginning as a cerebral film (literally and figuratively), and in the wake of grinding comic-book franchises, sequels to sequels, 80s-toy adaptations, and 80s-monster reboots, Hollywood is holding its breath.

It’s up to Inception to prove that there’s still room in the multiplex for smart sci-fi.

Of course, this is not a particularly fair position for this movie to be in. Nolan is a solid director with a good track record, but many a director with a good track record makes the occasional bomb (lookin’ at you, Ridley Scott), and without a strong trend of downward spiral (…Ridley), if a movie doesn’t do well, then it’s technically just a data point on a larger graph with invisible juggernauts like Eclipse and Toy Story 3 affecting results. 

However, in a Hollywood with a memory so short it’s already rebooting a franchise that had its last installment three years ago, even one underperforming movie is enough to put the red light on half a dozen other concepts. (That cerebral-sci-fi standby Michael Gondry is directing this summer’s Green Hornet movie speaks volumes about what the current movie market will support.)

And even if the movie does well, there are no guarantees that much will come of it. I’m not sure how many smart spec scripts have been stamped “Greenlit, Pending Inception’s First-Weekend Numbers.” But this is the industry that has declared, based on Jonah Hex’s opening box-office and her release from Transformers, that Megan Fox’s career is already over, and her franchise has only been around for three years. If Inception rakes it in opening weekend, six people in LA will ask for something just like it, and six smart-spec scripts will turn their conceptual little faces to the sun and bloom. (Also an angel will get its wings. Also there are dreams with restaurants.)

Christopher Nolan’s box-office record is that of a director who knows how to make a smart, noirish action flick that occasionally goes gangbusters at the box office. Let’s hope this is one of those times.

(A recent trailer for Inception is below. Look, hallways!)

Genevieve really hopes this movie does so well that the Trolls movie is shelved forever. No joke. She talks about other movie travesties on her blog.


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