By the Numbers: March 1

In or out of uniform, Mel Gibson seems comfortable in the thick of battle.

Such war-themed epics as Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Braveheart and The Patriot either earned Gibson sterling reviews or consolidated his status as one of Hollywood’s reigning box office champions.

For his latest tour of duty, Gibson leads 400 baby-faced U.S. troops into Vietnam’s so-called Valley of Death for a gory account of the first major clash between American and North Vietnamese forces. As with Black Hawk Down, the fact-based We Were Soldiers focuses on U.S. troops pinned down by the enemy. What differentiates the two is that We Were Soldiers devotes substantial time to the troops’ family life–in a terribly clichéd manner, regrettably–while attempting to humanize the enemy.

Chris Klein, Greg Kinnear and a wonderfully laconic Sam Elliott serve under Gibson‘s command.

Director Randall Wallace also knows the horrors of war. He wrote Braveheart, which earned Gibson an Oscar for his direction, and last year’s Pearl Harbor.

Gibson flopped with his previous excursion into Vietnam, but 1990’s comedic Air America crash landed with $30.5 million simply because it never the reached the scathingly satirical heights of M*A*S*H.

His recent track record–eight $100 million hits in 10 years–should ensure that We Were Soldiers will overcome a combat-weary audience already subjected in recent months to Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines, Hart’s War and No Man’s Land. Given this glut of war films, We Were Soldiers should open and close somewhere between Braveheart ($12.9 million debut; $75.4 million total) and The Patriot ($22.4 million debut; $113.3 million).

We Were Soldiers should not face much of a direct threat from the Oscar-nominated Black Hawk Down and Hart’s War. The Somalia-set Black Hawk Down has $102.1 million through Wednesday after six weeks in wide release, marking director Ridley Scott‘s third consecutive $100 million hit following Gladiator and Hannibal.

The verdict on Bruce WillisHart’s War is one of disappointment. The gripping courtroom drama, set in a POW camp toward then end of World War Two, has managed to make a mere $16 million through Wednesday since opening Feb. 15.

Just in time for Lent comes 40 Days and 40 Nights, a sex comedy starring another Pearl Harbor veteran, Josh Hartnett. Actually, this is a comedy about abstinence. Distraught after being dumped by his girlfriend, Hartnett decides to refrain from sex for the aforementioned period of time. His vow results in a battle between the sexes, with Hartnett naturally falling love with Shannyn Sossamon before his 40 days are over.

Delayed by Miramax from its original Aug. 24 release, 40 Days and 40 Nights asks Hartnett to carry a film on his shoulders for the first time. He’s enjoyed mixed success as an ensemble player. Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down and Halloween: H20 were hits, O, Here On Earth, Blow Dry and Town & Country were not.

40 Days and 40 Nights‘ R rating prohibits Hartnett from enjoying a possible hit on the scale of the tamer but similarly teen-targeted Shallow Hal and Never Been Kissed. With only the declining Super Troopers to compete against, 40 Days and 40 Nights looks set to open with $10 million on the strength of Hartnett‘s name, then splutter its way to $30 million.

With the deployment of We Were Soldiers, Queen of the Damned will soon be dead and dethroned. The anemic sequel to Interview with the Vampire opened last weekend at No. 1 with an OK $14.7 million, or a little less than one-third of its predecessor’s $36.3 million debut in 1994.

Hardcore fans of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels, and curiosity seekers intrigued by the presence of the late pop singer Aaliyah, no doubt contributed to Queen of the Damned‘s surprising victory over Denzel Washington‘s John Q.

Poor word of mouth–especially in regards to Aaliyah‘s fleeting appearance and Stuart Townsend‘s poor substitution for Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat–will surely drive a stake through the heart of Queen of the Damned. Expect the typical 50 percent drop in business for a horror yarn with no real shot at box office immortality.

Queen of the Damned has $17.3 million through Wednesday, on its way to a possible $35 million, or one-third of Interview with the Vampire‘s $105.2 million total. The Vampire Lestat may never rise again, at least not in the thin and pasty form of Stuart Townsend.

Kevin Costner‘s box office woes continue.

The silly, sickly sweet supernatural love story Dragonfly fooled no one into believing that this is a excursion into the unknown, a la The Sixth Sense or The Others. With its $10.2 opening, Dragonfly also failed to surpass the $11.2 million notched in January by the equally bewildering but somewhat creepier The Mothman Prophecies ($34 million through Sunday).

The good news is that, with $12 million through Wednesday, Dragonfly is not a disaster on the scale of last year’s 3,000 Miles to Graceland ($15.7 million). The bad news is that it is unlikely to match the totals of Costner‘s other recent flops For Love of the Game ($35.1 million) and Thirteen Days ($34.5 million). Perhaps it’s time for Costner to consider resurrecting plans for his sequel to The Bodyguard.

Dragonfly also ends director Tom Shadyac‘s streak of three consecutive $100 million hits, established with The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar and Patch Adams.

Denzel Washington‘s John Q enjoyed a second weekend haul of $12.4 million, slightly trailing the $13.3 million that his hit Training Day made last fall in its second weekend. The anti-HMO hostage thriller has made $42.1 million through Wednesday, less than the $46.9 million that Training Day had made during the same period. At this pace, John Q should walk away with about $65 million vs. the $76.2 million that Training Day purloined.

Taking hostages in the name of a dying son clearly elicits audience sympathy. Seeking revenge following the murder of a wife and child does not. Collateral Damage looks set to become Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s second consecutive flop following 2000’s The 6th Day ($34.5 million). Schwarzenegger‘s bid to hunt down a Colombian terrorist has resulted in a puny $35.4 million through Tuesday. After dropping 54 percent in its third weekend, from $8.4 million to $3.8, Collateral Damage will likely plummet from the Top 10 this weekend.

Baby, who wants to do it one more time? Britney Spears learned that last weekend when her road trip came to crashing halt. Crossroads dropped 52 percent in its second weekend, from $14.5 million to $7 million, and tumbled out of the Top 10 as the week advanced. Most of Spears‘ pre-teen fans clearly stormed theaters during the President’s Day holiday to see Crossroads, and those that did not may have been barred from doing so last weekend by their parents. Unlike Mandy Moore‘s chaste A Walk to Remember, Crossroads fleetingly tackles such issues as rape and teen pregnancy.

Crossroads, which has $26.4 million through Monday, is unlikely to match the $38.1 million that A Walk to Remember has through Sunday.

With families not willing to take in Crossroads, Return to Never Land, Big Fat Liar and Snow Dogs continue to do business.

The Peter Pan sequel Return to Never Land enjoyed a second weekend decline of only 24 percent, from $11.8 million to $8.9 million. With $28.4 million through Wednesday, Return to Never land won’t need Tinkerbell’s help to reach a total of $50 million.

Big Fat Liar fibbed its way to $33.4 million on Monday. Frankie Muniz‘s attempts to put Hollywood producer Paul Giamatti in his place eased by an acceptable 27 percent in its third weekend, from $8.7 million to $6.3 million. The comedy should secure a total of $45 million.

Snow Dogs slowed 35 percent in its sixth weekend, from $5.1 million to $3.3 million. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Alaskan adventure has $72.6 million through Sunday, with $80 million expected by the time he crosses the finish line.

Super Troopers arrested $3.9 million in its second weekend, down 37 percent from its $6.2 million debut. The zany law enforcement comedy has $13.3 million through Wednesday, and will likely surpass martial arts spoof Kung Pow: Enter the Fist‘s $15 million current tally this weekend.

The Oscar race continues to be profitable for the major contenders.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($284.1 million through Wednesday), Gosford Park ($28.4 million through Sunday) and In the Bedroom ($26.1 million through Sunday) continue to benefit from their Best Picture nominations.

Another Best Picture nominee, A Beautiful Mind, has $133.8 million through Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether star Russell Crowe‘s British Academy for Film and Television Arts awards post-show shenanigans will hurt his chances for a second Best Actor Oscar and, consequently, the John Forbes Nash Jr. biography’s future fortunes.