‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and the tricky nature of box-office magic

July 16, 2010 | 1:37 p.m.

John Horn covers film and the film industry for the Los Angeles Times and Friday he looked at “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and Disney’s struggle to make magic with the film, which opened this week.

When star Nicolas Cage, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub collaborate on movies about secret societies hidden in plain sight, the results have been remarkable: Their first two National Treasure movies grossed more than $800 million combined around the world, and Disney is developing another sequel that could start filming early next year.

Nicolas Cage Sorcerers Apprentice

But before the triumvirate commits to a third “National Treasure” film, they face the challenge of launching “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a family-friendly adventure tale about a centuries-old magicians battle in modern-day Manhattan. While several PG-rated movies have performed exceptionally well this summer ( “The Karate Kid,” “Shrek Forever After” and, in its first week, “Despicable Me“), the $150-million “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens opposite director Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” which premieres Friday and so far is generating much stronger audience interest and critical notices.

In an attempt to improve the prospects for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which arrived in theaters on Wednesday, Disney, in an unusual move, revamped the film’s marketing campaign just days before its release, including switching the film’s tag line in some advertisements from “It’s the coolest job ever” to “There’s no such thing as no such thing.”

The studio also bumped the movie’s release date from Friday to Wednesday to get ahead of “Inception,” which should win the weekend by a wide margin. In fact, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” will struggle to top “Despicable Me” for second place on the charts. It’s the first Disney sales campaign overseen by M.T. Carney, who joined the studio in April following a career as a brand marketer with no background in movie promotions.

Bruckheimer, whose first summer release, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” did only moderate business domestically (grossing $89 million in North America, but more than $236 million overseas), says that though he’s usually nervous about his films — “I always expect the worst and hope for the best” — he concedes the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” marketing effort hasn’t unfolded perfectly. “We weren’t getting much traction with what was out there,” he says …


— John Horn


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Upper photo: Nicolas Cage in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Credit: Disney

Lower photo: Johnny Depp in December 2007. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

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