DreamWorks’ “Gladiator” should emerge victorious in this weekend’s box office arena.

“There’s ‘Gladiator‘ and there’s everything else,” says one studio executive. “I think it’s a $30 million opening.”

The R-rated action adventure will open in 2,938 theaters with about 5,000 prints, which means it will play on more than 5,000-plus screens. Its first-choice tracking score in terms of all opening and released films in the marketplace is an enviable 31% overall. For men, it’s a muscular 48%.

“There’s no doubt about it that this picture could crack $30 million, if not more,” an insider notes. “Last year at this time, there was ‘The Mummy,’ and it was an $80 million weekend (total for films making over $500,000). But there also was ‘The Matrix,’ which was doing $12.5 million. You don’t have that (strength in second place) this weekend.”

“It’s the ‘Deep Impact‘ and ‘Twister‘ syndrome,” an executive explains. “You’ve got that first weekend in May. There’s nothing else to compete for that audience. Every theatre that’s playing it can have it on multiple screens. It’s the big blockbuster movie out there. People are ready for the blockbuster season to start, and there’s only one movie that fits the bill. I think it will just suck up the business.”

Although DreamWorks is distributing “Gladiator” domestically, Universal is releasing it internationally, and the two studios are 50-50 partners, sharing equally in its success.

Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Russell Crowe.

Universal’s “U-571″ should descend one fathom deeper to second place. The PG-13 rated World War II submarine drama should drop about 40% and surface with $7 million or more after its third weekend.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, “U-571” stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.

The race for third, fourth and fifth place will be close, with Universal’s family appeal comedy “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” New Line’s time travel thriller “Frequency,” and 20th Century Fox’s drama “Where the Heart Is” all bunched together.

“Those movies are all likely to be in the $7 million range – take your pick,” a distribution source speculates.

If “Flintstones” drops 35%, it will do about $6.8 million. “It’s the only family film in the marketplace,” another source reminds. “They hold better and ‘Gladiator‘ doesn’t hurt ‘Flintstones.'”

“Flintstones,” the PG rated prequel to the 1996 original that grossed over $350 million worldwide, is directed by Brian Levant and stars Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin.

New Line’s PG-13 rated “Frequency” should have good word of mouth based on last weekend’s exit polls.

Directed by Gregory Hoblit, it stars Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel.

20th Century Fox’s PG-13 rated drama “Where the Heart Is,” whose core audience is women, was made for $15 million and picked up by Fox for domestic and English-speaking territories for just $9 million.

Directed and produced by Matt Williams, it stars Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack.

Insiders disagree about whether Columbia’s PG-13 drama “I Dreamed Of Africa,” opening at 2,112 theaters, will awaken in the Top Five. Going into the weekend, its 6% first-choice overall tracking was modest enough to raise doubts. Some think it will just make it, while others insist it will be close, but no cigar.

“It’s a 10% first choice for women and absolutely nothing for men,” an executive points out. “It’s got a 17% definite interest for men. It’s nowhere for men or for ethnics. It’s definitely old. The tracking (in terms of age) is definitely over-45, and they don’t go out opening weekend. It’s got major problems.”

“It could hit the top five, but the jury is still out,” an observer speculates.

Directed by Hugh Hudson, it stars Kim Basinger.

Filling out lower rungs: “Rules of Engagement,” “Love & Basketball,” “Keeping the Faith” and “28 Days.”

On the limited release front: USA Films opens its PG-13 rated drama “Up At The Villa.”

Directed by Philip Haas, it stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, James Fox, Derek Jacobi and Anne Bancroft.