Lurking in the shadows, however, is pop songbird Britney Spears, whose Crossroads opens Friday against Washington's John Q, Willis' Hart's War, Disney's Peter Pan sequel Return to Never Land and the police parody Super Troopers.
Washington, who received an Oscar nomination Tuesday for his role as a corrupt cop in Training Day, looks set to prove once again that when he's bad, he's good at the box office. In the process, John Q will knock off Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage as the No. 1 film.
Director Nick Cassavetes' scabrous but preposterously executed attack on HMOs, election year politics and media chicanery stars Washington as a father unable to afford the heart transplant operation that his young son desperately needs. So Washington does what every church-going, blue-collar family man does: hold hostage the patients awaiting treatment at an E.R. and force his son's doctor (James Woods) at gunpoint to perform the lifesaving operation.
The dubious moral of the story--that one must resort to violence in order to overcome bureaucratic red tape--will be lost amid the cheers destined to accompany Washington's every speech and threat. To that extent, John Q should triumph where the similarly themed Mad City failed in 1997 and enjoy an opening weekend that should exceed the $10.5 million total of that Costa-Gavras' misfire by perhaps $3 million. It helps that Washington is on roll after scoring with The Bone Collector ($66.4 million), The Hurricane ($50.6 million), Remember the Titans ($115.6 million) and Training Day ($76.2 million).
Washington's The Siege co-star Willis will provide the stiffest competition for John Q. The two tussled in the fall, when Washington's Training Day fended off Willis' underachieving Bandits with relative ease.
Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan rekindled interest in World War II. The Sept. 11 attacks also left audiences hungry for war sagas, resulting in the subsequent successes of Black Hawk Down ($89.2 million through Thursday) and Behind Enemy Lines ($58 million).
A thoughtful mediation on racism within the U.S. army's ranks, Hart's War pits Willis against Colin Farrell in a courtroom thriller set within the confines of a German POW camp. Willis, the camp's highest-ranking American officer, orders Farrell to defend a black pilot (Terrence Howard) during a murder trial that isn't quite what it seems.
Romance drove such recent World War II sagas as Pearl Harbor, Enemy at the Gates, Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Charlotte Gray. Hart's War offers no such diversion, which could keep away those most likely to swoon at the sight of a pretty boy in uniform. Hart's War, however, should score with those who turned U-571 into a $79 million hit in 2000. Also, it helps that director Gregory Hoblit knows his way around a courtroom. His Primal Fear earned $56 million in 1996 and propelled Edward Norton to fame. Hart's War could do the same for Farrell, who became such a hot property after the critically acclaimed but hardly seen Tigerland that he replaced Norton in Hart's War, Matt Damon in Spielberg's Minority Report and Jim Carrey in Phone Booth.
Hart's War will likely steal audiences away from the bloody Black Hawk Down, especially since director Ridley Scott's Somalia-set saga failed to secure a Best Picture Oscar nomination this week. Hart's War, though, faces extreme competition on March 1 in the form of Mel Gibson's Vietnam epic We Were Soldiers.
Moore surprisingly raised the bar in January for Spears' starring debut Crossroads when A Walk to Remember opened with $12.1 million. The teen romance has made a solid $30.6 million through Monday after three weekends, but will likely buckle under the pressure of facing Crossroads.
The sight of a scantily clad Spears jiggling her way across America should be enough to attract an audience larger than her loyal female following, resulting in an opening similar to that of A Walk to Remember.
Crossroads might have a harder time matching the extremely chaste A Walk to Remember's eventual gross. Some parents might not take too kindly to their younger children watching Spears strut around in her underwear or sit through a road movie that touches upon such sensitive issues as rape and teen pregnancy.
There are no such worries with Return to Never Land, a somewhat belated sequel to 1953's Peter Pan and Disney's annual animated President's Day offering. Disney originally conceived Return to Never Land as a direct-to-video project, as it did with Toy Story 2. Disney clearly believes that Return to Never Land can enchant a young audience recently weaned on the likes of Peter Pan, The Jungle Book and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Still, Disney isn't displaying as much faith in Return to Never Land as it did in Toy Story 2, which opened with $57.3 million in 1999 during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday. The weekend before and during the President's Day holiday offered down-to-earth openings for 2001's Recess: School's Out ($13.5 million; $36.6 million total) and 2000's The Tigger Movie ($9.4 million; $45.5 million total). Return to Never Land should match Recess's opening and fly off to about $50 million before enjoying a long and lucrative life on video and DVD.
A trip to Never Land will cause some families to cancel plans to run with Disney's other family offering, Snow Dogs, but not enough to slow Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Alaskan adventure to a crawl. Snow Dogs continues to show great legs, earning a strong $7.1 million in its fourth weekend despite competition from Big Fat Liar. Snow Dogs has $60.8 million through Wednesday, and should cross the finish line with $80 million.
Return to Never Land won't likely pose much of a threat to Big Fat Liar, which opened last weekend with a strong $11.5 million. The comedy, with Frankie Muniz matching wits with a greedy film producer, has $13.4 million through Thursday, and should remain the film of choice for pre-teens unable to sneak into Crossroads.
Fox failed in January to turn its spoof Kung Pow: Enter the Fist into a marital arts equivalent of Scary Movie. The company's boutique label, Fox Searchlight, won't have better luck trying to pass off Super Troopers as a Naked Gun for the 21st century. Like Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Super Troopers features no recognizable faces. Super Troopers also will fail to exceed the PG-13 rated Kung Pow: Enter the Fist's $7 million opening by virtue of its prohibitive R rating.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's somewhat timely terrorist thriller opened last weekend with $15.1 million, slightly better than other such action-packed disappointments as Last Action Hero and The 6th Day. Collateral Damage has collected an unexciting $19.4 million through Thursday and will certainly not exceed the $66.8 million amassed by 1999's End of Days, which marked the start of Schwarzenegger's box office decline as an action hero.
Still, Schwarzenegger should fare better than his Predator and Last Action Hero director John McTiernan, whose ill-advised Rollerball remake crashed with a lousy $9 million opening. Audiences completely rejected this reworking of Norman Jewison's thoughtful but stomach-churning look at a futuristic sport driven by its body count.
MGM pulled Rollerball from its August release following terrible word-of-mouth and then cut out a fair chunk of nudity and violence to secure a PG-13 rating. The tactic didn't work in 2000 for the studio's Supernova ($14.2 million total), and it isn't going to save Rollerball from certain disaster. With Chris Klein serving as an inferior substitute for the original's James Caan, Rollerball has managed to amass an uncompetitive $10.8 million through Thursday. After The Thomas Crown Affair and Rollerball, McTiernan should avoid any more attempts to exploit Jewison's extensive body of work.
Perhaps MGM should have instead turned its attention to remaking Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Director Kevin Reynolds' reworking of the classic tale of revenge, with Jim Caviezel plotting revenge against Guy Pearce, has plundered a grand $34.6 million through Thursday.
A Beautiful Mind saw its grosses jump from $433,000 on Monday to $610,000 on Tuesday after receiving eight Oscar nominations, including one Best Picture. You don't need to be a genius in mathematics to calculate that Ron Howard's biography of John Nash Forbes Jr., which has collected $116.2 million through Thursday, looks set to benefit the most this Oscar season. A Beautiful Mind will likely see its President's Day tally jump modestly from last weekend's haul of $6.3 million.
I Am Sam, which garnered a surprise Best Actor nomination for Sean Penn, increased from $323,000 on Monday to $395,000 on Tuesday. The heart-wrenching drama, with the mentally challenged Penn fighting to retain custody of his 7-year-old daughter, has $25.6 million through Thursday. I Am Sam should enjoy another $5 million weekend thanks to its Oscar nomination.
Best Picture nominations also should revitalize The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($272.9 million through Thursday), Gosford Park ($22 million through Sunday) and In the Bedroom ($19.2 million through Sunday) at the box office this weekend. Monster's Ball, which secured Halle Berry an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, should now successfully build upon the $2.3 million it earned at 342 theaters last weekend. The tense family drama has $3.9 million through Sunday.
With its 13 Oscar nominations, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will certainly end up with a gross in excess of $300 million. Its $272.9 million total equals director Peter Jackson's budget for the three films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring surpassed Shrek ($267.7 million) last week to become 2001's second-highest grossing film.
Perhaps a certain apprentice wizard should considering casting a spell that would prevent him from being thrashed at the box office by a lowly hobbit on a life-or-death mission.