By the Numbers: Feb. 22

The undead come out to play this weekend as the sickly sweet ghost story Dragonfly and the goth-rock vampire tale Queen of the Damned try to banish John Q to box office purgatory.

With a string of expensive flops to his name, Kevin Costner turns to Liar Liar and The Nutty Professor director Tom Shadyac to revive his flagging fortunes. Unfortunately, Dragonfly isn’t one of Shadyac‘s patented gross-out comedies but a silly, sentimental and serious-minded The Sixth Sense rip-off that won’t allow Costner to regain the popularity that he enjoyed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He last tasted success with 1999’s syrupy Message in a Bottle ($52.8 million) and has since endured the flops For Love of the Game ($35.1 million), Thirteen Days ($34.5 million) and 3,000 Miles to Graceland ($15.7 million).

As in The Sixth Sense, kids somehow see dead people. The dead person in question is Costner‘s recently deceased wife, a saintly doctor whose body was never recovered following a fatal bus accident in Venezuela. The kids claim they have a message for Costner from his wife. Too bad she’s not telling him to find a new agent. Hard to believe, but Dragonfly manages to be even more disgustingly maudlin and vacuously uplifting than Shadyac‘s first stab at inspirational drama, Patch Adams.

Wrestling with ghosts proved successful for Bruce Willis and Nicole Kidman, but the preposterous and less-than-spooky Dragonfly won’t resonate with audiences in the same manner as The Sixth Sense or The Others. Instead, Dragonfly will match the $11.2 million opening enjoyed in January by The Mothman Prophecies. Richard Gere‘s equally muddled foray into the unknown at least ended with a genuinely creepy note, no doubt helping The Mothman Prophecies to earn an OK $32.4 million through Monday. Dragonfly‘s preposterous ending might kill its chances of even cracking $30 million.

Dragonfly looks set to spoil Shadyac‘s perfect track record as a director. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Shadyac‘s directorial debut, turned Jim Carrey into a household name after it sleuthed its way to $72.2 million in 1994. Shadyac‘s The Nutty Professor remake, which revived Eddie Murphy‘s career, marked the first of three consecutive $100 million hits that continued with Liar Liar and Patch Adams. Shadyac might consider a well-advised return to comedy if Dragonfly indeed fails to take flight.

If audiences crave blood, they should turn to Queen of the Damned.

Rumors started to spread last year that Warner Bros. would send its Interview with the Vampire sequel straight to video in the wake of lousy word of mouth. Instead, Queen of the Damned arrives in theaters Friday with Warner Bros. in the unenviable position of marketing this adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel without exploiting the tragic death of its star, Aaliyah.

Miramax’s genre label Dimension faced the same problem in 1994 when it released The Crow one year after the accidental on-set death of star Brandon Lee. Dimension’s subtle marketing campaign resulted in a $55 million smash.

Aaliyah completed filming the role of the Egyptian vampire Akasha months before the August airplane crash in the Bahamas that killed her. She had already made a successful acting debut in the Shakespearean-inspired martial arts thriller Romeo Must Die ($55.9 million), and had been cast in The Matrix sequels, The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

Queen of the Damned isn’t likely to match the $36.3 million that Interview with the Vampire sucked out of audiences during its opening weekend in November 1996. Tom Cruise, as the Vampire Lestat, led the pretty-boy cast of Interview with the Vampire that included Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and Christian Slater. This sequel–based on the third book in the Rice-penned series–instead features the relatively unknown Irish actor Stuart Townsend as Lestat, now a rock star whose music awakens Queen Akasha from a 6,000-year slumber. (Wes Bentley and Josh Hartnett were both reportedly approached to star as Lestat, but both declined to take on the daunting challenge of replacing Cruise.)

The combination of the literary series’ hardcore followers, Aaliyah‘s faithful fans and the curiosity surrounding her final film should result in a $13 million opening and a $35 million total, about one-third of the $105.6 million that Interview with the Vampire settled for after a fast fade.

Queen of the Damned still might not be able to claim sovereignty over the box office.

Denzel Washington‘s John Q set a President’s Day record opening with its four-day tally of $23.6 million, beating previous holder The Wedding Singer‘s $21.9 million. Its three-day gross was $20.2 million, representing Washington‘s second-best opening behind the $22.5 million earned in October by Training Day.

Unlike critics, audiences responded enthusiastically to a film that seemingly endorses terrorism as a means of cutting through bureaucratic red tape. Washington plays a father who takes hostage a Chicago emergency room in order to secure a heart transplant for his dying son.

Training Day took $13.3 million in its second weekend, a tally that John Q can easily equal. If so, John Q will likely end up with a total close to Training Day‘s $76.2 million. It has $25.1 million through Tuesday.

Women are “slaves” 4 Britney Spears. The pop siren’s film debut Crossroads opened with a sturdy $17 million during the four-day holiday, with 84 percent of the comedy’s audience comprised of young women. Crossroads‘ three-day take was $14.5 million, or $2.4 million better than the $12.1 million taken in its opening weekend in January by fellow singer Mandy Moore‘s A Walk to Remember. Crossroad‘ $2.4 million Monday take equals the three-day opening for Mariah Carey‘s disastrous Glitter, which ended up with just $4.2 million.

Unlike A Walk to Remember, Crossroads did not endure a drastic drop in business during the week because of fans having to observe school-related curfews. It made a strong $814,000 on Tuesday, for a total of $17.8 million.

Spears‘ grand entrance resulted in A Walk to Remember dropping an expected 42 percent in its fourth weekend. Still, A Walk to Remember enjoyed three strong weekends, and has $35.9 million through Monday, on the strength on its rather chaste content. If word spreads this weekend that Crossroads is substantially racier, Spears might have to make do with matching A Walk to Remember‘s second weekend of $8.8 million. Regardless, Spears looks set to sing her way to a total $40 million.

Families couldn’t resist a Return to Never Land. Once planned as a direct-to-video project, the Peter Pan sequel flew away with an excellent $15.6 million four-day opening. That’s better than the $13.4 million that Disney’s animated Recess: School’s Out made during last year’s President’s Day holiday weekend.

Tinkerbell used her magic Monday. With children out from school, Return to Never Land earned $3.7 million, beating John Q‘s $3.3 million. Return to Never Land should continue to play well with families–competition does not arrive until The Time Machine starts ticking March 8–and earn a total $50 million. It has $16.5 million through Tuesday.

Return to Never Land did not cause significant harm to fellow Disney comedy Snow Dogs, which dropped just 28 percent in its fifth week, from $7.1 million to $5.1 million ($6.7 million four-day total). The Cuba Gooding Jr. Alaska adventure has $68.1 million through Monday, justifying Disney’s efforts to rush a sequel into production.

Big Fat Liar, with Frankie Muniz exacting revenge upon greedy Hollywood producer Paul Giamatti, continued to make young audiences laugh. The comedy eased a mere 25 percent in its second weekend, from $11.5 million to $8.7 million ($11.4 million four-day total). Telling lies clearly pays dividends, as Big Fat Liar has $25.6 million through Tuesday. A total $40 million looks possible.

Bruce Willis lost the last time he faced The Siege co-star Denzel Washington, when Bandits failed to unseat Training Day in October as the nation’s No. 1 film. Willis lost again this weekend, as the World War II drama Hart’s War earned a disheartening $8.9 million during the four-day weekend ($7.7 million Friday through Sunday). That represents Willis‘ worst opening since Last Man Standing debuted in 1996 with a weak $7 million, on its way to a total $18 million.

Hart’s War, an unusual courtroom thriller set in a POW camp, doesn’t have the romantic interludes that helped Pearl Harbor or Enemy at the Gates connect with audiences. Its opening does match that of last summer’s World War II flop, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which debuted with $7.2 million. Hart’s War should claw its way to equaling the lackluster $25.5 million that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin strummed up. It has $9.5 million through Tuesday.

The courtroom dynamics of Hart’s War were obviously no match for the bloody gunplay of Black Hawk Down. Now in its fifth weekend in wide release, director Ridley Scott‘s Somalia-set war epic slid by just 22 percent–from $8 million to $6.2 million ($7.2 million four-day total)–in the wake of receiving four Oscar nominations. Black Hawk Down has $96.9 million through Tuesday, with it likely to cross $100 million by Saturday or Sunday. That would give Scott his third consecutive $100 million film, following Gladiator and Hannibal.

Collateral Damage, conversely, seems to be fading fast because of its unrealistic depiction of the war against terrorism. The thriller–delayed following the Sept. 11 attacks–pits firefighter Arnold Schwarzenegger against the terrorist who killed his family. Collateral Damage might seem timely, but under Andrew Davis‘ uninspired direction, it plays like a yawn-inducing throwback to Schwarzenegger‘s 1985 Commando. Collateral Damage plummeted 44 percent in its second weekend, from $15 million to $8.4 million ($9.6 million four-day total), and has a so-so $29.7 million through Tuesday. Collateral Damage should cruise past 2000’s The 6th Day ($34.5 million) but will collapse well short of 1999’s End of Days ($66.8 million).

No one wants to play Rollerball these days. Director John McTiernan‘s remake of the 1975 sci-fi thriller dropped a fatal 56 percent in its second weekend, from $9 million to $3.9 million ($4.6 four-day total). Its $15.5 million total through Monday bolsters the argument that this is a remake that no one wanted made.

Seems there is still some money to be made poking fun at the law post-Sept. 11. Fox Searchlight doubled the $3.25 million it spent to acquire the Super Troopers at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. A 21st-century Police Academy, the R-rated Super Troopers collared a $6.2 million debut at 1,780 theaters ($7.1 million four-day total). That’s a little less than the $7 million that the PG-13 martial arts spoof Kung Pow: Enter the Fist made in January. Super Troopers, which has $7.6 million through Tuesday, could earn $20 million if it manages to disarm audiences with its hit-or-miss gags.

The arrival of five new releases during the President’s Day weekend saw old favorite The Count of Monte Cristo tumble out of the Top 10. Director Kevin Reynolds adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling epic stole off with another $4.8 million ($5.7 million four-day total) and has $40.3 million through Monday, on its way to a possible $50 million.

The Oscar race is on, and A Beautiful Mind is the winner, at least at the box office. Ron Howard‘s inventive biography of mentally challenged mathematics genius John Forbes Nash Jr. jumped by a strong 28 percent–$6.3 million to $8 million ($9.4 million four-day total)–in its seventh week in wide release after receiving eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. A Beautiful Mind has $126.3 million through Tuesday.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Gosford Park and In the Bedroom also benefited from receiving Best Picture nominations.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring jumped a precious 30 percent in its ninth weekend, from $3.6 million to $4.7 million ($5.7 million four-day total), for a total of $279.1 million through Tuesday.

In the Bedroom saw business increase by a whopping 56 percent, from $1.6 million to $2.6 million ($3 million four-day total), for a total of $23.2 million through Monday.

Gosford Park experienced a 24 percent increase in business, from $1.8 million to $2.3 million ($2.8 million four-day total), for a total of $25.7 million through Monday.

Even an acting nomination means big business. I Am Sam, starring surprise Best Actor nominee Sean Penn, eased by an acceptable 21 percent in its fourth weekend in wide weekend, from $4.6 million to $3.6 million ($4.3 million four-day total), for a total of $29.5 million through Monday.

Halle Berry‘s Best Actress nomination allowed Monster’s Ball to enjoy a 17 percent increase, from $2.3 million to $2.7 million ($3.2 million four-day total), for a total of $8 million through Monday.

Three acting nominations for Iris–Best Actress Judi Dench, Best Supporting Actor Jim Broadbent and Best Supporting Actress Kate Winslet–resulted in the biography of the late novelist Iris Murdoch earning a $319,373 in its first weekend in 31 theaters ($390,091 four-day total) following a brief Oscar-qualifying run in December. Iris has made $583,296 through Monday.

Not in the running for Oscar gold can mean the death of a film. Take The Shipping News, for example. Lasse Hallstrom‘s dreary adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel dropped a terrible 63 percent after failing to secure any Oscar nominations and disappearing from half of its 215 theaters. The Shipping News might be bad news for co-star Dench, but at least she can take comfort in her nomination for Iris.