By the Numbers: March 8

An uncertain future awaits The Time Machine.

Originally scheduled for a Dec. 25 release, DreamWorks’ $70 million version of the H.G. Wells literary adventure doubtless stands to benefit immensely from its move to March. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, DreamWorks wanted to rework a scene during which large pieces of the moon rain down on New York City.

The Time Machine also ran the risk of stalling in December against The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As it stands, The Time Machine represents the sole family oriented effects-driven spectacle to hit theaters since The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Guy Pearce, as the inventor whose 800,000-year spin through time takes him to a dark and foreboding world, holds more appeal now than he did at Christmas. His villainous turn in January’s The Count of Monte Cristo helped director Kevin Reynolds‘ remake of the Alexandre Dumas novel earn $48.4 million through Tuesday. Plus, Pearce earned rave reviews for last year’s art house smash, Memento.

Accordingly, The Time Machine will zoom past holdovers We Were Soldiers, 40 Days and 40 Night and John Q and land in the No. 1 spot this weekend.

Given its March launch, The Time Machine won’t post a dazzling holiday-like opening. Instead, the remake will likely exceed Mission to Mars‘s $22.8 million debut in March 2000. The Time Machine‘s fate ultimately rests upon its ability to compete against the upcoming Ice Age, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Clockstoppers, and, to a lesser extent, Resident Evil and Blade 2.

But the tinkering that has been made to this version of The Time Machine could stop it from earning no more than Mission to Mars‘ eventual $60.8 million. With its dazzling special effects, this Americanized version of The Time Machine might win over fans of director George Pal‘s somewhat staid and terribly dated 1960 effort to adapt Wells’ novel. But The Time Machineis burdened with a laborious and unintentionally funny romantic predicament, lousy dialogue, stiff acting and monster makeup that Pal would have rejected as silly and fake looking.

Rollerball stands as the most recent example of a remake that crashed and burned with just $18.2 million because director John McTiernan failed to improve upon the original 1975 sci-fi classic.

This should not have happened, considering The Time Machine remains a family affair. Director Simon Wells is the author’s great-grandson (The Mexican‘s Gore Verbinski stepped in to finish the film when an exhausted Wells dropped out 18 days before shooting ended). Wells neither preserves his great-grandfather’s vision of evolution or inject complementary new ideas.

The future also offered little solace for Ice Cube when he battled Ghosts of Mars. Director John Carpenter‘s sci-fi misfire opened last summer with a paltry $3.8 million en route to a down-to-earth $8.4 million. The rapper-turned-actor aims for a return to Friday-like popularity with All About the Benjamins, an action yarn executed strictly for laughs. Bounty hunter Ice Cube teams up with loudmouth grifter Mike Epps in a South Florida-set buddy movie as antiquated as the Tim Hardaway Miami Heat T-shirt that Ice Cube wears through much of the gunplay. It’s all about the babes, bullets and big bucks.

The little-known Epps is an annoying substitute for Chris Tucker, whose manic presence drove Friday to $27.3 million in 1995. Tucker declined to reunite with Ice Cube for Next Friday, but the sequel still managed to earn $57.1 million in 2000.

All About the Benjamins should hold more appeal to black audiences than Ghosts of Mars, allowing Ice Cube to enjoy a $10 million-plus opening. Ice Cube shouldn’t expect the Benjamins–or Hamiltons and Jacksons, for that matter–to roll in for too long. Showtime, an action comedy built around the inspired pairing of Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro, will likely crush All About the Benjamins when it debuts March 15. Consequently, Ice Cube can expect All About the Benjamins to match Friday at the box office but fall far short of Next Friday.

The war will rage on for Mel Gibson‘s We Were Soldiers. The Vietnam-era epic will cede the No. 1 spot to The Time Machine after opening last weekend with an excellent $20.2 million. This strong opening demonstrates that audiences are not growing tired of war films in light of the recent failure of Hart’s War.

This week’s battle against al-Qaida fighters in eastern Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of eight American soldiers since March 1, did not deter audiences from watching director Randall Wallace‘s Saving Private Ryan-styled account of the first major encounter between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces. We Were Soldiers made $26.3 through Thursday.

We Were Soldiers‘ debut falls between Braveheart‘s $12.9 and The Patriot‘s $22.4 million openings. Payback, a bloody but more commercial Gibson vehicle, managed a $21.2 million opening in 1999. Bearing this in mind, We Were Soldiers should emerge with a total somewhere between Braveheart‘s $75.5 million and Payback‘s $81.5 million.

The arrival of We Were Soldiers put Bruce Willis‘ disastrous Hart’s War out of its misery. The POW camp-set courtroom drama plunged a staggering 69 percent in its third weekend, from $4.4 million to $1.4 million, despite only being dropped from 2,459 theaters to 1,982 theaters. Hart’s War has $15 million through Sunday.

The era of the one-man army is possibly over for now in the wake of We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Collateral Damage fell by 50 percent in its fourth weekend from $3.8 million to $1.9 million. The terrorist-themed thriller has a lackluster $37.6 million through Sunday.

The Oscar-nominated Black Hawk Down sustained minor damage in the wake of We Were Soldiers. Director Ridley Scott‘s Somalia-set war epic dropped a respectable 36 percent in its seventh week in wide release, from $3.6 million to $2.3 million. Black Hawk Down has $105.2 million through Wednesday.

Denying pleasures of the flesh proved bountiful for Black Hawk Down‘s Josh Hartnett. His vow of abstinence for 40 Days and 40 Nights enjoyed a $12.2 million opening, not bad considering that the R-rated comedy is the Hartnett‘s first solo vehicle. 40 Days and 40 Nights also faced little opposition from holdover Super Troopers, which has $15.9 million through Monday.

40 Days and 40 Nights looks set to match the $34 million earned by director Michael Lehman‘s previous romantic comedy, 1996’s The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Its total through Thursday: $15.7 million.

Denzel Washington‘s anti-HMO screed John Q continues to connect with anyone willing to listen. The hostage drama eased by just 32 percent in its third weekend, from $12.4 million to $8.5 million, and has $53 million through Thursday. John Q lags somewhat behind last year’s Training Day, which had $59.8 million during the same period of play. John Q, though, remains on pace to wind up with a healthy $70 million.

An early grave awaits Queen of the Damned. The chillingly feeble sequel to Interview With the Vampire descended by a lethal 60 percent in its second weekend, from $14.7 million to $5.9 million. Fans of both novelist Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and the late pop singer Aaliyah clearly went out their way to see Queen of the Damned during its opening weekend. With $25.5 million through Thursday, Queen of the Damned has one last weekend to claw its way as close to $30 million as possible before making way for Resident Evil on March 15 and Blade 2 on March 22.

Dragonfly fared somewhat better than Queen of the Damned, but not enough to recall Kevin Costner‘s glory days as a box office phenomenon. The silly supernatural love story dropped 36 percent in its second weekend, from 10.2 million to $6.6 million, for $20.8 million through Thursday. Dragonfly surpassed the pitiful $15.7 million amassed by Costner‘s 2001 bomb 3000 Miles to Graceland, yet it won’t have the stamina to fly past fellow flops Thirteen Days ($34.5 million) or For Love of the Game ($35.1 million).

Return to Never Land can enjoy one last weekend before Peter Pan receives the cold shoulder from kids. The animated Ice Age will likely inflict Disney’s Peter Pan sequel a deadly blow. Still, with $37 million through Thursday, Return to Never Land can still make it to $50 million with a little bit of magic.

Big Fat Liar and Snow Dogs continues to pull in pre-teens too old for Return to Never Land and too young for Britney SpearsCrossroads. Big Fat Liar has $39.8 million through Thursday, with $50 million possible after a $4.9 million fourth weekend. Snow Dogs has $75.5 million through Sunday, after a $2.3 in its seventh weekend, as it continues its run toward $80 million.

Spears might sell more records than fellow pop diva Mandy Moore, but she isn’t selling quite as many tickets at the box office. The somewhat risqué Crossroads opened stronger than Moore‘s wholesome A Walk to Remember, but has experienced corrosive second and third weekend declines. With $31.5 million through Tuesday, Crossroads may fall short of A Walk to Remember‘s Sunday total of $39.3 million.

The prospect of Oscar glory continues to extend the fortunes of a handful of nominees. Best Pictures nominees Gosford Park and In the Bedroom have $31 million and $28.6 million, respectively, through Sunday. Monster’s Ball, starring Best Actress nominee Halle Berry, has $13.1 million through Sunday. Iris, featuring Best Actress nominee Judi Dench, Best Supporting Actress nominee Kate Winslet and Best Supporting Actor nominee Jim Broadbent, has $1.6 million. Amélie, nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture, has $27.9 million, a U.S. box office record for a French film.

Nominated for 13 Oscars, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has $288.6 million through Thursday, with $300 million a slight possibility before Oscar night. New Line does have an insurance policy in the event Peter Jackson‘s epic fails to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and thus ruin its chances of surpassing Harry Potter‘s $314.9 million take through Sunday. On March 22, New Line will put The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring back into 2,000 theaters complete with a four-minute preview of the second film in the trilogy, The Two Towers.

A Beautiful Mind slowed by just 12 percent in its 11th weekend, going from $5.3 million to $4.6 million. Nominated for eight Oscars, Ron Howard‘s biography of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. has $140.4 million through Thursday. Seems Russell Crowe‘s temper tantrum at last month’s British Academy for Film and Television Arts has not hurt the film, at least not at the box office.