BOX OFFICE: Gunning for Julia

As the box-office turns: Can an aging slacker suffering a romantic crisis, the second-string heartthrob from “Dawson’s Creek,” and yet another “animated epic” join forces to end Queen Julia Roberts‘ reign atop the box-office heap? Then again, will Jet Li karate-kick all of their butts?

This weekend, four major new movies (“The Road to El Dorado,” “The Skulls,” “High Fidelity” and “Price of Glory“) hit theaters, threatening not only to knock “Erin Brockovich” and “Romeo Must Die” out of the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, but also to squeeze several flicks that have been losing steam out of the Top 10 for good.

Here’s a look at the weekend’s top players:

The Road to El Dorado THE ROAD TO EL DORADO (See the trailer) The skinny: The biggest challenge to “Romeo” and Julia undoubtedly comes from this, the second animated movie from DreamWorks. Starring the voices of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, “Road” follows Spanish con men searching for the legendary City of Gold. DreamWorks is counting on kids’ love for the Spanish Conquest to sell tickets to this baby — it’s opening in a whopping 3,206 theaters. The plus side: It’s got a score by Elton John and Tim Rice. While their “The Lion King” work was arguably good (or not good, depending on your taste), it was undeniably successful.

The down side: Advance word has been less than enthusiastic, owing to the fact that its storyline — and even its director — were changed during the course of its long development.


THE SKULLS (See the trailer) The skinny: Joshua Jackson, Pacey of “Dawson’s Creek” fame (and Charlie from the “Mighty Ducks” flicks), plays an Ivy Leaguer who stumbles upon a spooky secret cult. The plus side: It’s got “a pretty good trailer,” says Paul Dergarabedian of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

The down side: Teen movies just aren’t making big bucks right now. Last weekend, the flicks “Here on Earth” and “Whatever It Takes” — starring hormone cases all — pulled in only about $4 million each.

HIGH FIDELITY (See the trailer) The skinny: A sort of “Empire Records” for people in their 30s. The plus side: For one thing, it’s got 1980s icon John Cusack (lately of “Pushing Tin” and “Being John Malkovich” fame, among others). For a second thing, it’s got director Stephen Frears (“The Grifters,” “The Hi-Lo Country“). And for a third thing, it’s got a soundtrack with 61 songs! (The film takes place mostly in a record store.)

The down side: Did we mention that it’s about people in their 30s?

Price of Glory

PRICE OF GLORY (See the trailer) The skinny: Jimmy Smits (“L.A. Law,” “NYPD Blue”) stars as a father who tries to live his boxing dream through his three sons. The plus side: Well, “Rocky” was a hit.

The down side: To date, Smits’ film career has consisted of un-“Rocky”-like movies. Like “Switch.” Or “Old Gringo.” Or …

Romeo Must Die

ROMEO MUST DIE (See the trailer) The skinny: The hit hip-hop rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” with Jet Li’s kung-fu stylings thrown in for good measure. The plus side: After opening March 22, this one had pulled in about $27 million as of Tuesday. And it was still running neck-in-neck with “Erin Brockovich” through midweek.

The down side: What if Jet Li pulls a hamstring?

Erin Brockovich

ERIN BROCKOVICH (See the trailer) The skinny: You know the drill: Roberts plays a sassy, real-life legal investigator who takes on Corporate America. The plus side: It’s been No. 1 for the past two weekends, and as of Tuesday it had grossed nearly $60 million.

The down side: Nothing stays No. 1 forever. … Right?

So, what’s the bottom line? Says Dergarabedian: “‘Erin Brockovich‘ is still going strong.”

“It made $18 million last weekend and only dropped about 30 percent [from the previous weekend]. It’s definitely going to make another $10 million. I think ‘El Dorado‘ is going to do pretty well, but for any of these new movies to be No. 1, it’s going to have to make $15 million. I think ‘El Dorado‘ has the best chance to do that.”

In other box-office action:

MOST LIKELY TO BE KICKED OUT OF THE TOP 10: “My Dog Skip” (No. 8 last weekend), “The Cider House Rules” (No. 9) and “The Whole Nine Yards (No. 10).

MOST LIKELY TO REMAIN IN THE TOP 10: “American Beauty,” which has already pulled in about $110 million, will expand into more theaters after its Best Picture win at the Oscars.