By the Numbers: Feb. 8

Beware, evildoers: Ar-nuld‘s back and he’s ready to kick some terrorist butt.

Postponed from its Oct. 5 release in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Collateral Damage arrives in theaters Friday as more than just another attempt by one of the world’s biggest action stars to revive his flagging fortunes at the box office.

Suddenly, Collateral Damage represents a vicarious experience for audiences eager to punish those who dare to create terror on American soil. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a firefighter-is there a nobly profession these days?-who hunts down the Colombian terrorist responsible for planting a bomb that killed Schwarzenegger‘s wife and son. Accordingly, what unfolds as a tired and cliched throwback to the days of Commando should give Arnold Schwarzenegger his first No. 1 film since 1997’s disappointing Batman & Robin. Given that Schwarzenegger faces competition in the action-oriented Rollerball remake, and Friday’s opening night 2002 Winter Olympics ceremony, Collateral Damage should mirror the $18.7 million opening that the equally simplistic Behind Enemy Lines enjoyed in late November.

The controversy swirling around Collateral Damage‘s depiction of Colombians as terrorists and drug manufacturers ironically should help the film at the box office. Newspapers are devoting the kind of coverage to Collateral Damage that not even Schwarzenegger, who is famous for being doggedly devoted to promoting his films, could hope to generate.

Yet no effort seems to have been made during Collateral Damage‘s four months on the shelf to reflect what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thus dialogue about today’s America not experiencing the horrors of war could result in audience dismissing Collateral Damage as irrelevant despite its timeliness.

Schwarzenegger has fallen somewhat out of favor since his rare villainous turn as Mr. Freeze in the unintentionally campy Batman & Robin ($107.3 million total). The gloomy horror yarn End of Days made a lackluster $66.8 million in 1999 while The 6th Day‘s $34.5 million in 2000 represented Schwarzenegger‘s worst haul at the box office since 1982’s Conan the Barbarian heralded his arrival as a major action hero.

Schwarzenegger faces a few challenges in his bid to teach such whippersnappers as Vin Diesel and Jet Li a lesson or two in saving the day. Collateral Damage is the first Schwarzenegger offering since 1985’s Commando to open outside of the summer and winter holidays, times when a big-budget thriller such as this would thrive. Also, the last time Schwarzenegger took on terrorists, he had Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold and director James Cameron by his side to turn True Lies into a $146.2 million smash.

All things considered, Collateral Damage will likely end up with about $70 million. Not bad, but not great for a man once considered the most bankable star in the world. Schwarzenegger will have to wait until next year’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines celebrate his seventh $100 million smash.

Schwarzenegger‘s Collateral Damage debuts against Rollerball, from his Predator and Last Action Hero director, John McTiernan.

Without Schwarzenegger, McTiernan scored major hits in the 1980s and 1990s with Die Hard, Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October.

Lately, though, McTiernan seems intent on remaking just about every film made by director Norman Jewison. McTiernan and MGM scored a steamy hit with their 1999 remake of Jewison‘s The Thomas Crown Affair. Now McTiernan and MGM reunite for Rollerball, a remake of Jewison‘s 1975 look at a world in which war has been replaced by a violent sport more popular than football.

Rollerball hardly rushes into theaters. MGM yanked the remake from its original Aug. 17 release date following terrible word of mouth. McTiernan is used to such delays. He directed The 13th Warrior before The Thomas Crown Affair. His adaptation of Michael Crichton‘s Eaters of the Dead remained on the shelf for so long that it ended up in theaters four weekends after the release of The Thomas Crown Affair.

The remake stars Chris Klein as Rollerball’s very own Michael Jordan. His presence certainly will not lure too many spectators to Rollerball. Audiences do not display much interest in Klein unless he’s wooing Mena Suvari in the American Pie series.

Also, the well-reviewed The Thomas Crown Affair tantalized audiences with the promise of Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo getting hot and heavy in some exotic locales. Rollerball offers no such draw, and consequently will fail to make even half of The Thomas Crown Affair‘s $69.3 million total. Rollerball might not even have enough steam to push past The 13th Warrior‘s less-than-noble $32.6 million gross.

And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing for McTiernan. Rollerball flopping might convince McTiernan to leave Jewison‘s classics alone before he does damage to In the Heat of the Night or Fiddler on the Roof.

Not interested in a shot of testosterone? Then try Big Fat Liar, a family comedy that could provide a welcome alternative to parents worn out by Cuba Gooding Jr.‘s Alaskan adventure Snow Dogs. Teen TV stars Frankie Muniz (Malcolm and the Middle) and Amanda Bynes (The Amanda Show) unite to put greedy Hollywood producer Paul Giamatti in his place.

Malcolm in the Middle debuted on Fox in early 2000 to great reviews and ratings, a factor that no doubt helped Muniz‘s My Dog Skip to become a modest hit a few weeks later. Big Fat Liar should benefit from Muniz‘s Malcolm in the Middle antics to the point where it equals My Dog Skip‘s $34 million total. Big Fat Liar also faces little competition for the pre-teen market in the weeks to come, with the upcoming Disney Peter Pan sequel Return to Neverland aimed at preschoolers.

The triple threat of Collateral Damage, Rollerball and Big Fat Liar, plus the art house expansion of Billy Bob Thornton‘s Monster’s Ball ($1.4 million through Sunday), should drive audiences to theaters this weekend. Football fans, of course, stayed at home last Sunday to watch the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl upset over presumed winners the St. Louis Rams. The 2002 Winter Olympics will keep some people glued to their TVs, but not on the same scale of the Super Bowl.

As expected, the Super Bowl resulted in disastrous debuts for two delayed offerings, Birthday Girl and Slackers.

Birthday Girl failed to capitalize on Nicole Kidman‘s likely Oscar nomination for either Moulin Rouge or The Others. The messy mix of comedy and drama, with Kidman as an Internet-ordered bride with a shady past, opened with a less-than-celebratory $2.3 million at 1,000 theaters. Birthday Girl won’t make much more than $6 million, or just under half of the $13.7 million that Moulin Rouge earned in its first weekend in wide release.

Teens wanted nothing to do with Slackers Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzman and James King. The R-rated college comedy opened with a fittingly lazy $2.7 million from 1,893 theaters, and has amassed a lowly $3.4 million through Wednesday. Seems no one assumed that Slackers is a sequel to Slacker, which Richard Linklater, the director of the philosophically meandering Gen X classic, initially feared. Slackers will likely end up with about $8 million, proving once again that raunchy teen comedies are currently out of vogue.

The Super Bowl did not hurt Black Hawk Down, The Count of Monte Cristo, A Walk to Remember, I Am Sam and Snow Dogs.

Black Hawk Down will surrender the No. 1 spot to Collateral Damage after serving as the champ for three weekends. Ridley Scott‘s bloody account of a showdown between U.S. troops and Somalian warlords has made $77.8 million through Wednesday, with $100 million a certainty.

The Count of Monte Cristo continues to surprise. Director Kevin Reynolds‘ remake of the Alexandre Dumas literary classic declined by just 23 percent in its second weekend, from $11.3 to $8.7 million. It again ranked behind A Walk to Remember in the Top 10, but has made more money thanks to strong weekday business. With $25.2 million through Wednesday, The Count of Monte Cristo will ride past the lackluster $27 million that The Musketeer made in September and should make do with a booty of about $40 million.

Mandy Moore‘s fans clearly aren’t interested in football. The pop singer’s A Walk to Remember dropped 27 percent in its second weekend, from $12.1 million to $8.8 million. With Valentine’s Day approaching, A Walk to Remember will clearly benefit this week from boyfriends willing to do anything for their loved ones, including seeing an unabashedly soppy teen romance starring Mandy Moore. A Walk to Remember, however, is set to take a big hit next weekend with the arrival of Britney SpearsCrossroads. With $24.3 million through Wednesday, A Walk to Remember will likely singto the tune of $40 million.

I Am Sam, hear me warble The Beatles. The critics hated it, but the Sean Penn drama continues to make audiences cry for all the right reasons. I Am Sam, starring Penn as a mentally challenge father fighting for custody of his 7-year-old daughter, dropped 24 percent in its second weekend, from $8.5 million to $6.3 million. Playing at only 1,303, I Am Sam has made an excellent $18.7 million through Wednesday.

There’s no rest for Cuba Gooding Jr.‘s Snow Dogs. The family comedy continues to run much of the competition ragged as it enjoyed a third weekend haul of $10.1 million, or 22 percent less than the previous weekend’s $13 million. That was the smallest decline in earnings for any of the films in the Top 10. Snow Dogs now has $52.3 million through Wednesday. Even with competition arriving in the form of Big Fat Liar and Return to Neverland, Snow Dogs should run its way to $75 million.

Richard Gere‘s The Mothman Prophecies flew lower by a better-than-expected 34 percent in its second weekend, going from $11.2 to $7.3 million. With $22.6 million through Wednesday, The Mothman Prophecies could survive being dismissed as a substandard X-Files knockoff and end up making close to the $37.7 million that Gere‘s Autumn in New York made in 2000.

The Super Bowl sacked Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. The martial arts spoof tumbled 45 percent in its second weekend, from $7 million to $3.8 million, for a total of $12 million through Sunday. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist will be lucky to kick its way to $17 million.

Leading Oscar contenders A Beautiful Mind, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Gosford Park should continue to do strong business in advance of Tuesday’s nominations announcement.

Director Ron Howard celebrated his fifth $100 million hit last weekend with A Beautiful Mind. The biography of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. has made $106.3 million through Wednesday. A slew of nominations, plus a win or two, will result in a possible $140 million total for A Beautiful Mind.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will vanquish Shrek this weekend to become the second-highest earner of 2001. Peter Jackson‘s epic has $267.5 million through Wednesday. Shrek ended its run with a $267.7 million. Securing a Best Picture nomination will help The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring climb to a $300 million total.

Robert Altman‘s classy murder mystery Gosford Park dropped by only 15 percent in its third weekend in wide release, from $2.7 million to $2.3 million. With its total standing at $19.9 million through Wednesday, Gosford Park will surpass The Player‘s $21.7 million this weekend to become Altman‘s biggest hit in more than two decades. A shot at Oscar gold would be the icing on the cake for an iconoclastic director who seems to be back at the peak of his creative powers.