As the box-office turns: Is Julia Roberts still the best thing going? Or will Samuel L. Jackson open up a can of whoop-you-know-what and knock her off her pedestal? This weekend, four new movies hit theaters nationwide ("Rules of Engagement," "Black and White," "Ready To Rumble" and "Return to Me") but experts think that only "Rules," starring Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, has the cojones to kick Julia's box-office butt and end the three-weekend-long reign of "Erin Brockovich."
"I think it's gonna be tight for No. 1," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.
Here's a look at the new players:
"Rules of Engagement" RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (See the trailer) The skinny: Samuel L. Jackson is a military man wrongfully court-martialed for murder; Tommy Lee Jones is his gruff lawyer. The plus side: It has a bad-ass cast, and Jones and Jackson are two of the best actors working today. The downside: We're more interested in seeing Jackson in the upcoming "Shaft" remake.
"Ready to Rumble" READY TO RUMBLE The skinny: David Arquette and Scott Caan play wrestling fans who meet their WWF-style idol. The plus side: Says Dergarabedian, "It's a wrestling film. It's really aimed at the most frequent moviegoers [i.e., young males] ... This one could sort of come out of nowhere." The downside: Those call-collect commercials, in which Arquette plays a total raving idiot, are testing our patience.
"Return to Me" RETURN TO ME (See the trailer) The skinny: David Duchovny's dates the woman (Minnie Driver) who got his dead wife's heart -- except he doesn't know it. The plus side: Tugs at your heart strings (supposedly). The downside: Seeing Minnie Driver with Duchovny invites all sorts of comparisons to Matt Damon.
"Black and White" BLACK AND WHITE (See the trailer) The skinny: A semi-improvisational film starring Brooke Shields as a documentary filmmaker who follows around some rich white kids from New York's Upper East Side. The plus side: Cameos by Robert Downey Jr., Mike Tyson, and Claudia Schiffer. The downside: See "The plus side."
MAINSTAYS: "Erin Brockovich" grossed a respectable $13.8 million in its third weekend at No. 1, and even its latest mid-week totals remain strong (on Tuesday, for example, it made another $1.2 mil, pushing its total to $77.8 mil so far). Dergarabedian says a film (probably "Rules of Engagement" or "Ready to Rumble") is going to have to make at least $10 mil to dethrone "Erin."
Elsewhere, "The Road to El Dorado," the new DreamWorks toon and last weekend's No. 2, is fading; "High Fidelity," which made a respectable $6.4 million to place fifth last weekend, is looking good thanks to positive reviews and Disney's decision to expand it into more theaters; "The Skulls" (No. 3, $11 million) should remain in the Top 10; "Romeo Must Die," with its hip-hop cred and kung-fu kicks, and "American Beauty," with its post-Oscar boost, also will likely remain among the weekend Top 10.