By the Numbers: Aug. 2

There’s something strange lurking in the cornfields of rural Pennsylvania, and it isn’t the Jolly Green Giant.

The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable director M. Night Shyamalan returns with Signs, a genuinely creepy sci-fi chiller that chronicles a potential alien invasion through the eyes of a family led by Mel Gibson. Signs should reinvigorate a box office that is being propped up solely by Austin Powers in Goldmember and possibly challenge the International Man of Mystery for the No. 1 spot.

The antithesis of Independence Day, Signs aims to startle audiences rather than blind them with expensive and extravagant special effects. Imagine being stuck in the basement during ID4‘s attack on Earth. That’s Signs. Gibson, standing in for regular Shyamalan collaborator Bruce Willis, is the widowed father prepared to defend his family. Crop circles herald the arrival of the alien visit. But is this a friendly call a la Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Shyamalan‘s unusual tales of ghosts and superheroes have transformed him into a director whose new films arrive with strong expectations. Signs is no exception. Its Friday opening comes after a long marketing campaign that refreshingly does not spoil the film’s scariest moments. The Sixth Sense and The Others prove that everyone loves to be frightened out of their wits toward the end of a long, hot summer. Gibson guarantees a huge turnout, having headlined or lent his voice to eight $100-plus-million live-action and animated smashes in the last decade.

Lacking any direct competition, Signs should easily surpass The Sixth Sense ($26.6 million) and Unbreakable ($30.3 million) to become Shyamalan‘s best opener yet. Debuting in 3,264 theaters, Signs will likely enjoy a $35 million to $40 million first weekend. That also would serve as a record for Gibson, whose best opening to date is Ransom‘s $34.2 million.

Signs‘ long-term prospects look excellent given that August faces a dearth of potential blockbusters beyond xXx and Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.

That’s not to say Signs will match the stunning $293.5 million earned by The Sixth Sense, which came out of nowhere to become a genuine phenomenon. Signs doesn’t have the same kind of surprise ending that inspired millions to see The Sixth Sense again to catch what they missed the first time around. Signs, though, should quickly exceed Unbreakable‘s $94.9 million total and end up somewhere between $130 million and $166 million earned by Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Signs‘ alien forces will vanquish the dragons and mutated spiders that have tried unsuccessfully to dominate the box office.

Reign of Fire is almost extinguished, having eroded 53 percent in its third weekend from $7.3 million to $3.4 million. With a mere $37.8 million through Wednesday, Reign of Fire won’t even match Dragonheart‘s modest $51.3 million tally.

Eight Legged Freaks fell straight out of the Top 10 in just its second weekend, having dropped 63 percent from $6.4 million to $2.4 million. This arachnid attack has claimed just $14.1 million through Sunday.

Dana Carvey all but disappeared–for personal and professional reasons–after enduring not one, but three, bombs in 1994.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t have made a worse time to make his comeback.

Master of Disguise, a family comedy Carvey co-wrote, arrives just one week after Wayne’s World cohort Mike Myers scored a record $73 million debut with Goldmember.

The surprise success of 1992’s Wayne’s World gave fellow Saturday Night Live staples Carvey and Myers the opportunity to go primetime. Myers didn’t hit his stride until 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Carvey, however, lost all momentum after a disastrous 1994 that saw the triple whammies of Clean Slate ($7.3 million), The Road to Wellville ($6.4 million) and Trapped in Paradise ($5.8 million). Carvey now places his trust in fellow ex-SNLer Adam Sandler to revive his stalled movie career. Sandler, who executive produced Master of Disguise, also helped turn buddy Rob Schneider into an unlikely box office draw.

In Master of Disguise, Carvey stars as an Italian waiter who learns that he has inherited his father’s ability to impersonate anyone and everyone. That lands Carvey in hot water with criminal mastermind Brent Spiner.

Carvey‘s long absence doesn’t help Master of Disguise‘s cause. Parents certainly remember Carvey and his hilarious impressions of George Bush, but their kids are growing up under the George Bush Jr. administration. They don’t know Carvey, so it’s going to be a tough sell persuading them to sit through the wholesome misadventure of one bumbling hero when they would much rather titter at the fart-propelled antics of a certain shagadelic secret agent. Plus, Master of Disguise opens less than one week before Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.

It also doesn’t help that Master of Disguise opens at a time when such family friendly offerings are falling by the wayside. The Country Bears opened last weekend with an unharmonious $5.3 million and has just $7.8 million through Wednesday. That’ll teach Disney for wasting its time basing a film on a theme park attraction. Stuart Little 2 still isn’t going to make more than its predecessor, despite having dropped a respectable 30 percent in its second weekend, from $15.1 million to $10.6 million. Stuart Little 2 has $39.3 through Wednesday, whereas Stuart Little had made $57.4 million during its first 13 days.

Opening in 2,565 theaters, Master of Disguise will likely muster up a debut slightly better than Clean Slate‘s total. A possible $25 million total at least puts Carvey back in the spotlight.

Unlike Carvey, Martin Lawrence successfully made the jump from TV star to Hollywood leading man. However, after a string of hits that culminated with 2000’s Big Momma’s House ($117.5 million total), Lawrence endured 2001’s twin bombs Black Knight ($33.4 million) and What’s the Worst that Could Happen? ($32.3 million).

So Lawrence returns to the stage in a bid to reverse his recent misfortunes. In the occasionally self-important Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat, the comedian promises to reveal all about his past legal and health problems. Lawrence is never more intriguing or funnier than when he tries to set the record straight about his recent trials and tribulations, but this comes only in the last third of the 104-minute concert film. Otherwise, Runteldat offers Lawrence‘s trite and moderately amusing observations on sex, kids and old age.

You So Crazy, Lawrence‘s first concert film, laughed up $10.1 million total in 1994 after playing in a mere 517 theaters. Opening in 725 theaters, the MTV Films-produced Runteldat should achieve more than double You So Crazy‘s $2.5 million debut.

Still, Lawrence needs a lot of support from his hard-core fans to match the surprising success of 2000’s The Original Kings of Comedy, another MTV Films concert film. Directed by Spike Lee, the MTV Films-produced The Original Kings of Comedy opened with an eye-opening $11 million at just 827 theaters. The Original Kings of Comedy eventually earned $38.1 million thanks to the combined strength of Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac, who all were at the time poised for mainstream acceptance. Lawrence, who’s prepared to make Bad Boys 2 to revive his flagging film career, is no longer at the height of his popularity. That means Runteldat won’t dethrone The Original Kings of Comedy, but it should connect with urban audiences to make between $20 million and $25 million.

Like Master of Disguise, Runteldat must fight for an audience at a time when Goldmember is breaking records.

The third Austin Powers mission blasted off with a stunning $71 million, plus $3.6 million from previews held July 25. That’s not only the fourth-biggest opening domestically, but a record opening for a comedy, beating the 67.4 million earned by Rush Hour 2, another New Line release. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery made just $53.8 million. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me opened with $57.4 million and grooved its way to a $205.5 million total.

Mike MyersGoldmember is set to surpass its immediate predecessor, a feat that no other sequel has managed to attain this summer. Goldmember became the 11th new release in 2002 to break $100 million after earning $103.6 million through Wednesday. In comparison, The Spy Who Shagged Me earned $79.7 million through its sixth day in release, including $3 million from previews.

Even if it loses half its audience this weekend, Goldmember would still reap a whopping $35 million. That would bring its total close to a swinging $145 million, with $250 million a possible total. Yeah, baby!

Michael Caine, who stars as Powers’ father, must be breaking out the champagne. His personal best is Miss Congeniality, which earned $106.8 million in 2000.

Goldmember not only goosed the box office, but stole away much of the business from Men in Black II and Mr. Deeds.

MIBII dropped 42 percent in its fourth weekend, from $14.5 million to $8.4 million. The sequel to the 1997 sci-fi hit has $176.43 million through Wednesday, with $200 million its likely target.

Adam Sandler made way for fellow ex-SNLer Myers. Mr. Deeds tumbled by 42 percent in its fifth week, from $7.3 million to $4.2 million. The remake of Frank Capra‘s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town has $118.1 million through Wednesday.

How tireless is Steven Soderbergh?

He’s directed seven films since 1998, including this weekend’s Full Frontal and the upcoming remake of Solaris, due Nov. 27. Does the man ever rest?

Full Frontal marks Soderbergh‘s return to the kind of low-budget filmmaking that he perfected with 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape. The digitally shot comedy also reunites Soderbergh with Julia Roberts, who starred in his Erin Brockovich and Ocean’s Eleven.

This is perhaps the most anticipated of this summer’s art house releases. Miramax released Full Frontal this weekend in about 200 theaters, with a gradual expansion expected throughout August.

Given its experimental nature, Full Frontal will undoubtedly halt Soderbergh‘s streak of $100-plus million hits (Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven). The bar should be set at $24.6 million, the total for sex, lies, and videotape.

Full Frontal opens at a time when adults clearly want to be entertained by the smart and savvy. Tadpole, a comedy about a 15-year-old boy’s infatuation with his stepmother, saw its takings jump 239 percent from $80,682 to $273,373 after expanding from 34 theaters to 40 theaters. Tadpole‘s total is $400,405 through Sunday.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding continues to delight. The romantic comedy’s $3 million weekend was enough to land it in the Top 10 for the first time in its 15 weeks of release. It has danced off with $36.7 million through Wednesday.

Road to Perdition should ignore the Signs and continue its prosperous trip. Tom Hanks‘ 1930s-era gangster epic tumbled by a mere 28 percent in its third weekend, from $15.4 million to $11.4 million. With $69.3 million through Wednesday, Road to Perdition‘s final destination of $100 million remains certain.

Signs, though, will likely mortally wound K-19: The Widowmaker, which continues to sink fast and furiously. Harrison Ford‘s fact-based story about a crippled Russian nuclear submarine dropped by 43 percent in its second weekend, from a tepid $12.7 million opening to $7.2 million. K-19, which has a disappointing $27.2 million through Wednesday, is on course to exceed Random Hearts‘ $31 million total but possibly not the $42.8 million earned by The Devil’s Own. Perhaps Ford should have thought twice about handing over the Jack Ryan franchise to Ben Affleck.