B.O. FORECAST: ‘Gladiator’ Steps Into Ring

Forget Roger Ebert. This weekend, the American moviegoing public gets to play the Emperor, deciding the fate of one of this year’s biggest and most anticipated blockbusters with thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

Gladiator,” the first huge-scale Roman epic to come out of Hollywood in who-knows-how-long, conquers our cinemas beginning Friday. Unless virtually every prognosticator is dead wrong, it should easily land at No. 1.

Also opening this weekend, in case anyone cares, is “I Dreamed of Africa,” a story of rich white people living in Africa, starring Kim Basinger and Vincent Perez.

Here’s a rundown of the new arrivals at the weekend box office:


GLADIATOR (See the trailer) The skinny: Russell Crowe finally gets to star in a movie without Kevin Spacey or Al Pacino to hold his hand, playing a slave whose skills in the gladiator ring propel him to stardom. It’s the triumph of the spirit over oppression; it’s “Spartacus” with special effects. The upside: The ring, the crowd, the spectacle, the lions and tigers. It’s Western Civilization 101 meets WWF wrestling. The downside: Will Crowe look manly in his armor and cod piece, like Kirk Douglas? Or will he be more of a Peter Ustinov type? “I Dreamed of Africa

I DREAMED OF AFRICA (See the trailer) The skinny: Kim Basinger and Vincent Perez play a rich, white, newlywed couple who move to Kenya to raise a family; drama ensues. The upside: It’s got Perez, who’s been anointed the next Antonio Banderas by gushing critics. The downside: It’s got Basinger, who hasn’t been anointed anything by anyone lately.

The main competition facing these new entries is posed by the submarine flick “U-571“, which was the nation’s No. 1 flick for the past two weekends).