B.O. ANALYSIS: This Weekend’s a Tough Call

Predicting this weekend’s box office is enough to drive anyone a little “Nutty.”

If Eddie Murphy’s “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps” has big legs, it stands to hold on to the top spot. The PG-13-rated comedy sequel from Universal and Imagine Entertainment could drop 50 percent from last weekend’s $42.5 million opening and still place first with around $21 million.

Directed by Peter Segal, it stars Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson and Larry Miller.

Columbia’s opening of its R-rated sci-fi thriller “Hollow Man” at about 2,800 theaters is shaping up as the most solid competition “Nutty” faces. But there also will be high-profile openings for Buena Vista/Touchstone’s PG-13-rated romantic comedy “Coyote Ugly” at 2,650-plus theaters and Warner Bros. PG-13 sci-fi action adventure “Space Cowboys” at 2,700-plus theaters.

“‘Coyote Ugly,’ ‘Hollow Man’ and ‘Space Cowboys’ are all looking pretty strong,” says one insider looking at the midweek tracking scores for all three new arrivals. “‘Hollow Man’s first choice is 16 percent. ‘Coyote Ugly’ is 15 percent. And ‘Space Cowboys’ is 10 percent. You’ve got to figure ‘Space Cowboys’ is older (in its appeal).”

Between “Coyote” and “Hollow,” which should perform best? “I’ve got to think it’s ‘Hollow Man’ (that will do the best of the three),” he speculates. “‘Hollow Man’ just feels broader to me. ‘Coyote Ugly’ feels like young girls – although there’s certainly plenty for young boys to look at and enjoy. It’s probably too close to call.”

Asked what sort of business to expect, a studio source replies, “They both could be in the high teens or even $20 million with this kind of first choice. Now, is that enough to beat ‘Nutty Professor?’ I don’t know. ‘Nutty Professor’ could drop 50 percent and still do $21 million. I think right now you’d have to say ‘Nutty Professor’s’ the favorite to be number one, but either ‘Hollow Man’ or ‘Coyote Ugly’ could give it some competition.”

With “Hollow” a likely second and “Coyote” a close third, “Space” should land in the fourth orbit on the chart.

Given its adult appeal, how far “Space Cowboys” travels at the box office will depend in part on what happens to the adult appealed “What Lies Beneath.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” an observer notes. “‘What Lies Beneath’ held up so well last weekend, down only 23 percent, because it was really the only movie for an older audience to go see. ‘Space Cowboys’ may cut into that, or the strength of ‘What Lies Beneath’ could really hurt ‘Space Cowboys.’

“But let’s say ‘What Lies Beneath’ does take a bit of a hit, and they’re down 30 percent this weekend. Then they’d still come in at $16 million, and that’s right where I think ‘Space Cowboys’ is going to be. I think you’ll see them both somewhere in the mid-to-high teens (in millions of dollars).”

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, “Hollow” stars Elisabeth Shue and Kevin Bacon.

Directed by David McNally, “Coyote” stars Piper Perabo and Adam Garcia.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, “Space” stars Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland.

That would send DreamWorks PG-13-rated supernatural thriller “What Lies Beneath” (a co-production with 20th Century Fox, which is releasing it internationally) down three rungs to fifth place in its third weekend.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Beneath” stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.

20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” should X-it the Top Five in its fourth weekend. The PG-13-rated sci-fi action adventure slid another 46 percent last weekend to $12.7 million.

Directed by Bryan Singer, “X-Men’s” cast is headed by Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen.

Filling out lower rungs: “Scary Movie,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Disney’s The Kid” and “The Patriot.”

On this weekend’s limited release front: USA Films’ PG-13-rated romantic comedy “Mad About Mambo” opens its first engagements.

Directed by John Forte, it stars Keri Russell and William Ash.

Fine Line Features’ R-rated comedy “Saving Grace” opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Nigel Cole, it stars Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson.

Sony Pictures Classics’ R-rated romantic comedy “The Tao of Steve” opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Jenniphr Goodman, it stars Donal Logue and Greer Goodman.

Looking ahead to Aug. 11, mid-week overall tracking numbers showed very little excitement over any of the three films scheduled to arrive then. Insiders said the early first choice tracking is 4 percent for MGM’s PG-13 rated drama “Autumn in New York,” 3 percent for Paramount’s R rated suspense thriller “Bless the Child” and 2 percent for Warner Bros.’ football action comedy “The Replacements.”

Tracking scores typically increase as films’ openings get closer and more television ads run on their behalf.