By the Numbers: Box Office Preview Aug. 3

Hand Jackie Chan a pair of chopsticks and he could somehow find a way to vanquish an army of Triad assassins using the eating utensils as a makeshift weapon.

Armed or not, Hong Kong’s most popular export may find himself defenseless against an entire planet populated by smart and sadistic simians.

Under any other circumstances, Rush Hour 2 would crush any and all challengers during its opening weekend. After all, this is a sequel to an unexpected smash hit that earned $141 million in late 1998.

Now, Chan and costar Chris Tucker have the misfortune of doing battle with Tim Burton‘s reinterpretation of Planet of the Apes, which crushed everything in its wake last weekend and earned an astounding $68.5 million in the second best three-day opening ever.

Conquering the Planet will be a daunting task for Chan and Tucker, not that the duo won’t go down without busting plenty of skulls. By employing their lightening-quick fists and mouths, Chan and Tucker should at least see Rush Hour 2 equal or exceed the original’s $33 million opening. Whether Rush Hour 2 will top Planet of the Apes will depend on public acceptance of Burton‘s vision of the 1968 sci-fi classic, particularly his somewhat maligned final scene. If Apes loses half its audience this weekend–which has been the trend for most of this summer’s blockbusters–then Chan and Tucker will emerge triumphant.

Rush Hour 2 also will test Tucker‘s popularity. He’s kept his mighty mouth all but shut since the release of Rush Hour. He skipped Next Friday with Ice Cube, the sequel to their 1995 stoners-in-the-hood classic. His efforts to launch Guess Who’s President? and the James Bond spoof Double O-Soul seem to have floundered. He walked away from his Rush Hour follow-up Black Knight, for which he was reportedly supposed to earn between $13.5 million and $15 million, so 20th Century Fox instead enlisted the services of Martin Lawrence for $16.5 million to headline the Thanksgiving Day holiday comedy fantasy.

Chan‘s U.S. box office track record is somewhat spotty. His reissued Hong Kong classics garner minimal interest–perhaps because of America’s disdain for all things dubbed. Chan‘s biggest post-Rush Hour offering remains Shanghai Noon. The high-kickin’ western had the misfortune to open last year against Mission: Impossible 2, which may explain its modest $56.9 million gross. Still, Chan‘s busy schedule includes a Shanghai Noon sequel, Shanghai Knight.

Of the three new releases, Rush Hour 2 represents the sole contender likely to rock Planet of the Apes off its axis.

Julie Andrews will need more than a spoonful of sugar to sweeten the way for The Princess Diaries. This Disney fairy tale–based on the recently published novel by Meg Cabot–stars Andrews as a fictional European queen who grooms her clumsy granddaughter for the inevitable transfer of power.

Clearly aimed at the same preteen girls who adored Disney’s recent remake of The Parent Trap, The Princess Diaries represents one of the few G-rated studio releases this summer. That alone should guarantee The Princess Diaries a strong opening, though not immediate success.

The Princess Diaries marks Garry Marshall‘s first directorial effort since 1999’s Runaway Bride. Marshall‘s recent success seems to rest on the shoulders of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, having directed both in Runaway Bride and Pretty Woman. He endured a fallow period in the nine years between the two smash romantic comedies, with the likes of Exit to Eden, Dear God and The Other Sister deserving their disastrous turns at the box office. Marshall needs The Princess Diaries to reap big bucks if he is to dismiss the perception that he can only score a hit with the aid of Roberts and Gere.

Still, The Princess Diaries faces less of an uphill battle than Original Sin does.

The erotic thriller, promising the sight of Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie getting hot and heavy under a colonial Cuban sun, will open Friday after being bumped twice by MGM. That Original Sin failed to open in either November or February, as previously scheduled, and that MGM seemed reluctant at first to screen the film for critics, possibly portends its eventual fate. Perhaps MGM foresees capitalizing on Jolie‘s post-Tomb Raider heat to make a big buck or two. Not a bad theory on paper, but Original Sin flopped in France and Germany despite being released hot on the heels of the adventures of a certain Ms. Lara Croft.

The other high-profile new release of the weekend is actually 22 years old. Apocalypse Now Redux serves as director Francis Ford Coppola definitive version of his hallucinatory Vietnam epic. Coppola premiered Redux in May at Cannes, and many critics felt it was better than anything else that screened there. Redux will play exclusively in New York and Los Angeles before opening wider later this month.

Though an arthouse release, Redux is the most prominent reissue since last fall’s return of The Exorcist. Like The Exorcist, Redux boasts never-before-seen footage, which should ensure renewed interest from those who saw the antiwar treatise during its initial 1979 release. The mystique surrounding Coppola‘s flawed masterpiece also should entice those who were born long after the Vietnam conflict came to an end.

The big question of the weekend: How will Planet of the Apes fare? Through Thursday, the film has collected $96.2 million, indicating that it has staying power and will certainly roar past $100 million on Friday. Its $68.5 million opening is a tad more than that of May’s The Mummy Returns. That sequel enjoyed a second-weekend gross of $33.7 million, and recently hit the $200 million milestone. The Mummy Returns, however, benefited from a relative lack of competition for two weekends and then enjoyed strong business before and during the Memorial Day weekend holiday.

Then there’s Jurassic Park III. Apes drew significant blood, causing the latest Jurassic Park sequel to tumble 56 percent in its second weekend, from $50.8 million to $22.5 million. If the trend continues, and it’s almost a certainty given the one-two punch of Apes and Rush Hour 2, then Jurassic Park III will not exceed The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s $229 million gross. As of Thursday, Jurassic Park III‘s total stood at $134.7 million.

America should remain sweet on America’s Sweethearts given that it remains the highest-profile alternative to all that macho swagger on display in Planet of the Apes, Rush Hour 2 and Jurassic Park III.

The Julia Roberts-ensemble comedy did drop 49 percent in its second weekend, from $30.2 million to $15.4 million, but it still has more steam than both 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding and 1999’s Notting Hill. They ended up making $128.6 million and $116 million, respectively. America’s Sweethearts‘ total stands at $66.6 million through Thursday.

The Reese Witherspoon legal spoof, Legally Blonde, however, has been one of summer’s much-needed sleeper hits and looks like it could corral $100 million. Legally Blonde dropped a mere 19 percent during its third weekend, from $11.1 million to $9 million. With $65.5 million in the bank through Thursday, Legally Blonde‘s has eclipsed Clueless‘s $54.7 million gross and will likely sprint pass past Bring It On‘s $68.3 million this weekend.

Clearly there’s an audience out there that’s not intrigued by the adventures of highly evolved apes, cloned dinosaurs or bratty movie stars.