By the Numbers: Nov. 30

Behind Enemy Lines and Texas Rangers represent contrasting tales of the faith studios place in their films.

Soon after John Woo‘s World War II epic Windtalkers moved from Nov. 9 to June 14, 2002, Fox pushed up the Bosnia-set Behind Enemy Lines from Jan. 18 to Nov. 30 in the wake of successful test screenings. Audiences no doubt whooped and hollered at the sight of a stranded U.S. Navy aviator kicking enemy butt, in this case Serbian rebels.

Then there’s Texas Rangers, a post-Civil War Western left to gather dust on the shelf for almost two years by Miramax’s genre arm, Dimension. Originally scheduled for an April 2001 release, Texas Rangers will now ride into a mere 400 theaters for what seems like a hit-and-run release prior to being dumped quickly into video stores. Dimension also failed to screen Texas Rangers for critics, perhaps further evidence that it is worse than this summer’s MTV-ish American Outlaws.

Texas Rangers almost serves as a who’s who of today’s hottest TV stars, considering Dylan McDermott (The Practice), James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek), Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show and Oded Fehr (UC: Undercover) climbed into their chaps to retell how the famous law enforcement agency came into existence. Rachael Leigh Cook rounds out the cast, but having endured such recent flops as Get Carter and Josie and the Pussycats, her presence isn’t going to help that much. Expect Texas Rangers to rope in not even a quarter of American Outlaws‘ $4.8 million debut.

If Texas Rangers will leave all involved feeling saddle sore, Behind Enemy Lines should satisfy those in need of an adrenaline-charged jolt of mindless jingoism a la Rambo: First Blood Part II. Owen Wilson must fend for himself after Serbian rebels shoot down his plane. Commanding officer Gene Hackman defies orders–and threatens a potential peace accord–to rescue Wilson.

Hackman knows how it feels to be shot down and hunted by enemy troops, in his case by the Viet Cong. His Bat 21, however, flopped back in 1988.

Fox might be confident about Behind Enemy Lines, but Wilson needs to dodge more than a sniper’s bullet. The post-Thanksgiving weekend chews up and spits out new releases without mercy. Sylvester Stallone‘s 1996 disaster epic Daylight opened to a catastrophic $10 million and ended up with just $32.9 million.

Such blatant patriotism doesn’t always play well in a time of war. Flight of the Intruder opened on the eve of 1991’s Allied attack against Iraq, but the Vietnam-era thriller made only $14.2 million total as audiences stayed glued to CNN to watch the Gulf War unfold.

Also, audiences might experience an overwhelming sense of déjà vu watching Behind Enemy Lines, which arrives one week after Spy Game. Tony Scott‘s political thriller, with retiring CIA operative Robert Redford trying to save protégé Brad Pitt from execution at the hands of the Chinese, plays more like the thinking-person’s version of Behind Enemy Lines. What it will come down to is whether audiences want to see two major stars or watch all hell break loose in the wake of a downed U.S. Navy fighter plane.

Playing the Spy Game seems somewhat profitable for Redford and Pitt, having earned $34.5 million through Wednesday. That surpasses the $30 million that Pitt‘s Snatch made at the start of the year. It’s even sweeter for Redford, whose The Last Castle crumbled at a mere $21.7 million. Behind Enemy Lines, though, will likely result in less people wanting to partake this weekend in Spy Game.

No matter its fate, Behind Enemy Lines does not pose a serious challenge to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That honor will fall next week to the star-studded Ocean’s Eleven remake.

After a record-breaking Thanksgiving holiday weekend haul of $57.4 million, the apprentice wizard should find his magical hold on audiences now on the wane. Last year’s Thanksgiving champ Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas tumbled from $52.1 million to $27.1 million a weekend later. In 1999, Toy Story 2 earned $27.8 million the weekend after a Thanksgiving holiday that put $57.3 million in its coffers. A similar post-Thanksgiving weekend showing would allow Harry Potter to possibly surpass Rush Hour 2 as the year’s second-highest grossing film. But it won’t be enough to shatter Titanic‘s record third weekend of $33.3 million.

Harry Potter also has fallen behind Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, which had amassed $207 million through its 13th day in release. Harry Potter‘s total through Wednesday: $193.9 million.

Monsters, Inc. also will break $200 million this weekend. The Disney/Pixar animated gem continues to stand tall against Harry Potter, having enjoyed a $24 million Thanksgiving weekend. In 27 days in release, Monsters, Inc. has stored away $194.2 million through Wednesday. Shrek, the year’s No. 1 film with $267.5 million, had made $182.1 million during the same period. Remaining competitive against Harry Potter would allow Monsters, Inc. to best Shrek at the box office.

Martin Lawrence‘s hopes for a hit after the summer flop What’s the Worst That Could Happen? clearly do not lie with Black Knight. The time-travelling yarn, with Lawrence as an amusement park security guard zapped back to medieval England, took in just $11.4 million during the weekend. What’s the Worst That Could Happen? opened in June with $13 million, on its way to a tepid $32.2 million. Black Knight has $16.8 million through Wednesday, which is just a little more than Lawrence received to star in this Chris Tucker reject. Black Knight looks set to tumble by at least 50 percent and end up making no more than What’s the Worst That Could Happen?. With two consecutive flops under his belt, Lawrence must now look to next spring’s National Security to halt his reversal of fortune.

Out Cold needs crutches after a disastrous weekend on the slopes. Pushed up from its original early 2002 release date without much fanfare, Disney’s PG-rated teen ski comedy crashed last weekend with just $4.5 million. Its total through Wednesday is $7.3 million, with a chilly $12 million a possibility.

The unlikely romance between Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow continues to make audiences laugh. Shallow Hal dropped a respectable 30 percent in its third weekend, from $12.1 million to $8 million. Its total through Wednesday is $56.1 million, with $70 million a certainty. That should make directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly happy after their Osmosis Jones and Say It Isn’t So came and went this year without so much as a peep.

Playing at 217 theaters, Amelie is quickly becoming the arthouse sensation it was predicted to be. The French smash has $5.6 million through Wednesday, with business likely to bloom come awards time. With the next few weeks light on wide releases, Amelie should remain a top attraction, at least until the Dec. 21 onslaught of holiday releases.

Also expanding this weekend is Edward Burns‘s Sidewalks of New York. Having collected $678,000 in its first five days, this romantic paean to the Big Apple has already earned more in one weekend in limited release than Burns‘ previous directorial effort, 1998’s No Looking Back. But facing lukewarm reviews, Sidewalks of New York will surely struggle to surpass the totals of both The Brothers McMullen ($10.2 million) and She’s the One ($9.4 million). Americans might have taken New York to heart following Sept. 11, but that doesn’t mean they will embrace Burns‘ view of love and the city.