By the Numbers: March 22

The phone lines should be free and clear this weekend for a certain adorable alien to chatter all he wants with his far-flung friends and family.

Steven Spielberg‘s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial lands in theaters Friday almost 20 years after the alien first discovered a passion for Reeses Pieces.

Released June 11, 1982, E.T. eventually went on to become the highest-grossing domestic film of all time with its $399.8 million total. E.T. held the record until the 1997 reissue of Star Wars.

E.T. now ranks fourth on the top 10 list of films. This reissue–featuring digitally reworked scenes–should allow E.T. to surpass Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace ($431. million), possibly challenge Star Wars ($461.1), but poses absolutely no threat to the current champ, Titanic ($600.8 million).

On Friday, E.T. will become only the fourth film to pass the $400 million mark domestically.

Cynics might dismiss the E.T. reissue a thinly veiled launching pad for a lengthy campaign to promote the film’s eventual DVD debut. Forget that. The reissue allows parents in their late 20s and early 30s–who remember seeing E.T. as kids–to share with their children the magic of seeing E.T. on the silver screen.

E.T. should outpace such recent reissues as The Exorcist ($39.6 million) and Grease ($28.4 million). Family films are very much in vogue thanks to Ice Age, Snow Dogs ($78.7 million), Big Fat Liar ($46.2 million) and Return to Never Land ($45.1 million).

Spielberg, though, cannot expect to exceed Star Wars‘s 1997 reissue ($35.9 million opening; $138.3 million total). Star Wars not only featured never-before-seen footage, but also served as a tantalizing precursor for the release of The Phantom Menace. With no sequel looming, E.T. should match or surpass The Empire Strikes Back‘s 1997 reissue ($21.7 million opening; $67.5 million total).

E.T. also faces cold-to-the-bone competition from the mighty Ice Age. The prehistoric animated romp shattered March box office records with its $46.3 million opening, beating Liar Liar‘s $31.4 million 1997 debut. The Jim Carrey farce eventually earned $181.4 million.

The often irreverent and occasionally scary Ice Age clearly connected with children and adults in very much the same manner as last year’s Shrek ($267.6 million) and Monsters, Inc. ($252.7 million through Sunday). Showing the new trailer for Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones certainly helped. Indeed, Ice Age enjoyed the third-best opening for an animated yarn, behind Monsters, Inc. ($62.6 million) and Toy Story 2 ($57.4 million).

Shrek and Monsters, Inc. scaled such lofty heights in part because they opened prior to major holidays. Ice Age isn’t the beneficiary of a summer or Thanksgiving opening, but it will reap the rewards that come with being a major draw during the less-profitable Easter and spring break sojourns.

With $54.7 million through Wednesday, Ice Age will certainly become the first 2002 release to make $100 million on its way to an eventual $150 million to $175 million.

Let the bloodletting begin.

In one corner, it’s Blade, half-human, half-vampire, all hero.

In the other corner, it’s spunky Lara Croft clones Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, both eager to kick zombie butt.

Blade 2: Bloodhunt, the sequel to Wesley Snipes‘ 1998 smash, arrives one weekend after Resident Evil opened with a surprising $17.7 million. That could present Snipes‘ stoic vampire slayer with an adversary more monstrous than the mutated bloodsuckers that he now faces.

Based on the Marvel comic, Blade remains Snipes‘ best opening ($17 million) and second-biggest hit ($70.1 million) behind White Men Can’t Jump ($76.2 million).

A similar opening for Blade 2: Bloodhunt might be hard to pull off unless Resident Evil drops dead in its second weekend. That seems unlikely given that Resident Evil continues to play well into the week ($21.2 million through Wednesday).

Still, Blade 2: Bloodhunt should at least exceed the $14.7 million that Queen of the Damned opened with in February. Blade 2: Bloodhunt also should trump the Interview with the Vampire sequel’s pallid $29.5 million total by at least $15 million.

Not that Resident Evil will have an easy ride this weekend. Horror films usually lose half their audience during the second weekend in release. The same applies to films based on video games. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, for example, plummeted 58.5 percent in its second weekend, from $47.7 million to $19.7 million.

Resident Evil‘s strong performance during the week indicates that it could endure a less crippling 40 percent drop, allowing it earn around $12 million. This Aliens-inspired zombie yarn could end up with a total $50 million.

Resident Evil might prove both a blessing and curse for director Paul Anderson. He could find himself pigeonholed as a director only able to turn video games into hit movies. His adaptation of Mortal Kombat opened in 1995 with $23.2 million and earned a total $70.4 million. His subsequent films, Event Horizon ($26.6 million) and Soldier ($14.5 million), both crashed.

Put a man in a dress, and the result often is a comedy sensation a la Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire.

That’s no doubt the rationale behind Sorority Boys, a higher-education spin on Some Like It Hot. Booted out of their dorm, three college students (Harland Williams, Michael Rosenbaum and 7th Heaven‘s Barry Watson) go drag in order to find their new digs.

Given its R rating, Sorority Boys is in no position to become a 21st-century Mrs. Doubtfire. Besides, gross-out comedies continue to fare poorly at the box office, with such recent endeavors as Not Another Teen Movie ($37.8 million) and How High ($31.1 million) failing to become hits on the scale of Scary Movie or American Pie.

It also doesn’t help that the biggest name in the film is Williams. His sole solo vehicle, 1997’s disastrous RocketMan ($15.4 million), resulted in nothing but fleeting appearances in There’s Something About Mary, Superstar and Freddy Got Fingered.

Sorority Boys could lure teens tired with 40 Days and 40 Nights, which is winding down with an OK $31 million through Wednesday. But the April 5 arrival of National Lampoon’s Van Wilder will doubtless spell trouble for Sorority Boys.

It’s Showtime, but Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro fans didn’t seem too enthusiastic about pairing the two in a moderately amusing cop comedy. Perhaps audiences are growing tired of Murphy and De Niro‘s efforts to protect and to serve.

Showtime‘s modest $15 million debut–$17.8 million through Wednesday–is well below the openings for De Niro‘s most recent attempts to spoof his hard-as-nails image, Analyze This ($18.3 million) and Meet the Parents ($29.1 million). Murphy also endured his weakest debut since Bowfinger‘s $18 million in August 1999. Life, which paired Murphy with Martin Lawrence, managed to cough up $20.4 million in April 1999.

With Death to Smoochy and Big Trouble due soon, Showtime might come to an end sooner than later. Showtime is likely to emulate Murphy‘s embarrassing Beverly Hills Cop III, which opened in 1994 with $15.2 million and closed with $42.5 million.

Showtime did enough business to kill interest in All About the Benjamins. The Ice Cube/Mike Epps Miami-set action comedy lost 50 percent of its audience in its second weekend, dropping from $10 million to $4.9 million. With $18.6 million through Wednesday, All About the Benjamins won’t make it past $25 million.

The 1-2-3 punch of Ice Age, Resident Evil and Showtime left The Time Machine in a tailspin.

The Time Machine skidded by 52 percent in its second weekend, from $22.6 million to $10.7 million for a total of $42.1 million through Wednesday. That’s about even with 2000’s Mission to Mars, which plummeted by 50.1 percent in its second weekend from $22.8 million to $11.3 million. The Time Machine will likely match Mission to Mars‘ third weekend haul of $5.7 million en route to a disappointing $60 million total.

Mel Gibson‘s We Were Soldiers sustained last weekend’s onslaught of new releases with some grace. The bloody Vietnam-era epic dropped 40 percent in its third weekend, from $14.2 million to $8.4 million, for a total of $55.3 million through Wednesday.

We Were Soldiers is lagging somewhat behind Payback ($59 million in 20 days; $81.5 million total) but running neck and neck with 1997’s Conspiracy Theory ($55.4 million in 20 days; $76.1 million total). It also remains on track to match the $75.5 million earned by Braveheart, which was written by We Were Soldiers director Randall Wallace.

Denzel Washington‘s John Q continues to do strong business, even after five weeks in release. The anti-HMO hostage drama has $65.1 million through Wednesday, en route to a total $70 million to $75 million. Training Day, featuring Washington‘s Oscar-nominated performance as a corrupt cop, made $76.2 million.

The box office fate of several films now rests on how well they will perform at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony.

Best Picture nominees Gosford Park and In the Bedroom have, respectively, $35.5 million and $32.3 million through Sunday. Both films have more than doubled their grosses following last month’s Oscar nominations.

A Beautiful Mind has $150.2 million through Wednesday. A Best Picture win could possibly push A Beautiful Mind past Gladiator‘s $187.6 million to become Russell Crowe‘s biggest hit.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is not waiting for a Best Picture win to become one of the top 10 films released domestically. New Line will reissue Peter Jackson‘s epic–regardless of how many of its 13 nominations it wins–on March 29, complete with new footage from the upcoming The Two Towers.

With $295 million through Wednesday, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will have no trouble making $300 million regardless of what happens at the Oscars. The issue then becomes how high it can climb up the top-10 list of U.S. highest-grossing movie. Now at No. 11, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will likely surpass No. 10, Independence Day ($306.1 million).

From there, where? Perhaps it was too early to anoint Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–No. 7 on the list with $315.6 million-the top movie of 2001.