Lori Reese
June 15, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Look out John Travolta, there’s a new badass in town. ”Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” starring Angelina Jolie, should blast past ”Swordfish,” earning as much as $45 million this weekend — and reinvigorating the oft-maligned genre of joystick-inspired films in the process. In fact, ”Tomb Raider” looks set to outpace the $70.4 million earned by 1995’s ”Mortal Kombat” — the highest grossing videogame adaptation ever — within its first 10 days of release, according to Gitesh Pandya, editor of boxofficeguru.com.

Though the action film should draw a healthy turnout of fans of the top-selling game series, analysts say clever casting and a marketing campaign that actually downplays Lara Croft’s digital roots will help ensure that the movie avoids the fate of predecessors like 1993’s ”Super Mario Brothers” (which grossed $20 million) and 1999’s ”Wing Commander” ($11.5 million).

”Even though you get some dollars from the video game fans, you need to attract the people like me to make a blockbuster. I’ve never touched a joystick and I’m dying to see this film,” says Pandya. Adds Robert Bucksbaum of box office tracking firm Reel Source: ”Paramount has done a phenomenal job of making Jolie look like probably the sexiest star in history: exotic, strong, and tough to appeal to women and gorgeous for the guys.”

Another adventure opening in wide release, Walt Disney’s animated ”Atlantis,” should secure the No. 2 spot. But analysts are at odds over whether the traditional, nonmusical toon will be hurt by competition from the computer-generated comedy ”Shrek,” which is likely to finish at No. 3 (with $11 million to $15 million). ”Kids can see hand-drawn cartoons on Saturday mornings for free,” says Bucksbaum, who expects ”Atlantis” to open with $17.5 million. Pandya says Disney’s brand power alone should ensure a $27 million debut. And Dan Marks, vice president of ACNielsen, agrees. ”Some parents won’t trust their kids to anything BUT a Disney movie,” he points out. ”Disney. Atlantis. Those are powerful words.”

Travolta’s ”Swordfish” should drop to fourth place with $10 million to $11 million, losing about 40 percent of its thrill hungry audience to Jolie. The alien invasion comedy ”Evolution” will battle the fast-sinking ”Pearl Harbor” for the No. 5 spot. Both films are expected to earn between $8 and $9 million. ”I don’t think anybody thought ‘Harbor’ would keep dropping 50 percent week by week like this,” says Bucksbaum. Call it a sneak attack.

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