By the Numbers: Box Office Preview

Call it the calm before the spinosauraus attack.

With Jurassic Park III opening Wednesday, this weekend’s box office victor should not make itself too comfortable in the top spot. Next week, it’s T-Rex chow.

Given its strong but hardly dazzling $21.6 million debut, the current No. 1 attraction, Cats and Dogs, will likely take a fall but still land on its legs.

Expect Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to materialize at the top of the box office. The $100 million computer-generated animated epic faces little competition in the form of Legally Blonde, whose star Reese Witherspoon is threatening to become the next Alicia Silverstone, and The Score, a heist yarn teaming method masters Robert De Niro, Edward Norton and Marlon Brando.

Seemingly owing more to the blood-splattered Starship Troopers than the lifeless sci-fi jaunt Titan A.E., Final Fantasy represents Hollywood’s latest attempt to turn a popular computer game into a potential film franchise. The summer’s first such attempt, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, secured the top spot in mid-June with a $48 million opening but faded fast following lousy reviews. Tomb Raider‘s box office take sits at $117 million–impressive, but enough to warrant sending the buxom Ms. Croft on more globe-hopping escapades?

Most films based on computer games–or any games, for that matter–crash at the box office, with Tomb Raider and 1995’s Mortal Kombat serving as exceptions to the rule. Double Dragon, Wing Commander and Street Fighter simply lacked the narrative drive to compel game players to tear themselves away from their joysticks.

Final Fantasy opened Wednesday with a strong $5 million, but its long-term success hinges on its ability to overcome generally mixed reviews that praise its CGI-created imagery but damn its lack of humanity.

The peroxide set may take a shine to Legally Blonde, which looks like Clueless Goes to Law School. It also may appeal to those who women who feel alienated by Scary Movie 2‘s somewhat heavy reliance upon all manners of bodily fluids for laughs.

Legally Blonde may well be MGM’s sole summer bright spot after the disappointing What’s the Worst That Could Happen?. The studio’s oft-delayed Original Sin looks like an overheated romp under the Cuban sun courtesy of Barbara Cartland. The studio also just bumped Rollerball from August to sometime next year, a troubling sign if ever there was one. Still, MGM’s upcoming Ghost World, based on the quirky serialized comic book by Daniel Clowes, does look like a possible arthouse hit.

The Score hits theaters just as Brando‘s on-the-set clashes with director Frank Oz have made headlines. If anything, the film should generate genuine interest because of its remarkable cast. It also marks Brando‘s first theatrical release since 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (though it should be noted that Brando was willing to spew vomit at the beginning of Scary Movie 2 had he not taken ill.) Unfortunately, The Score fails to live up to expectations, with De Niro, Brando and Norton sharing all but two unexceptional scenes.

De Niro‘s track record with thrillers also leaves little to be desired. Ronin, which featured one of the best car chases in years, hit the wall at $41.6 million; 15 Minutes lasted almost as long, earning just $24.3 million; and The Fan struck out with just $18.5 million. He’s had better luck with comedies in recent years.

Precious few drops of blood are spilled during The Score, making it almost a perfect candidate for a PG-13 rating and thus a wider audience. Oddly, the film earns its R rating because of the somewhat liberal and superfluous use of a certain four-letter expletive.

Cats and Dogs and Scary Movie 2 maintained a bitter rivalry throughout the week, with the former winning by more than a whisker. Cats and Dogs has coughed up $44.3 million in the eight days since its July 4 release; Scary Movie 2 has generated $41.6 million during the same period.

In comparison, last year’s Scary Movie made $42.3 million in its first weekend. Its hurried sequel is unlikely to surpass the original’s box office take of $157 million, but it should hit $100 million with relative ease.

The same applies to Cats and Dogs, given that family audiences have almost had their fill of Shrek and have thoroughly rejected Atlantis.

A big question marks continues to surround Steven Spielberg‘s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg‘s adaptation of the long-cherished Stanley Kubrick project opened June 29 to a subdued $29 million and then tumbled a week later to $14 million. Its uninspired $63.7 million take indicates that the film has yet to find its true audience. What that audience happens to be has been the cause of much media speculation. It’s clear that it is not a family film a la E.T., nor is it an effort by Spielberg to reach a mature audience as he did with Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. That confusion likely will see A.I. prove one of the summer’s major disappointments.

One milestone worth mentioning: The Mummy Returns may surpass $200 million this weekend, making it the second 2001 release to do so. Shrek remains the year’s highest-grossing film with $242 million.