Lori Reese
June 29, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Pssst…have you heard there’s a new Steven Spielberg flick opening June 29? We hope so. The Über-director’s top secret sci-fi project ”A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” — starring Haley Joel Osment as a warm hearted robo-boy and Jude Law as his programmed-for-promiscuity pal — should snatch the No. 1 spot from last weekend’s surprise box office champ, the street-racing saga ”The Fast and the Furious.” In fact, ”A.I.” could debut with as much as $55 million.

But analysts are at odds over whether ”A.I.”’s cryptic ad campaign, which until recently only hinted at a dark ”Pinocchio”-inspired plot, will entice mainstream audiences. Gitesh Pandya, editor of boxofficeguru.com, says the teasers have fueled nationwide curiosity that will help the film score that boffo $50 million opening. ”You pique their interest in the beginning, and little by little you show more footage,” he says. ”Pretty soon, anticipation is through the roof.” But Robert Bucksbaum of box office tracking firm Reel Source foresees a comparatively modest $35 million opening. He thinks Warner Bros. has attempted to cast their net too wide with the cloak-and-dagger campaign. ”Today it’s all about niche marketing. Everybody knows about the movie in the big cities,” he says. ”But in middle America, the messages haven’t gone out.”

Regardless, analysts concur that marketers were wise to highlight the Spielberg name while downplaying the film’s connection to the late art-house titan Stanley Kubrick (”Eyes Wide Shut”), who bequeathed the project to the ”Saving Private Ryan” director before his death in 1999. Pandya puts it simply: ”Kubrick is respected, but he has never been mainstream. Steven Spielberg is the most commercial director ever.” Indeed, Spielberg has only a handful of fiscal disappointments on his resume (”Amistad” grossed only $42.2 million in 1997), while his successes such as ”Jurassic Park,” ($919.8 million worldwide) and 1982’s ”E.T.,” ($704.8 million) tower over those of his peers, points out Brandon Gray, editor of boxoffcemojo.com. ”He’s the only director in the world well known enough to put butts in seats.”

Meanwhile, ”The Fast and The Furious” should downshift to the No. 2 spot with $20 to $24 million, losing nearly half its audience after its runaway $40.1 million debut. ”Last weekend there was a sharp drop off in earnings from Friday to Saturday,” says Bucksbaum. ”This means most of the people who wanted to see it showed up on opening night.” But word of mouth could help ”Fast” gain some new viewers. ”So many people saw it, and there was so much press because of the huge box office, people are going to be wondering, ‘What’s the buzz about?”’ says Pandya.

”Baby Boy,” the new drama from ”Boyz N the Hood” director John Singleton, will battle the Eddie Murphy comedy ”Dr. Dolittle 2” for the No. 3 spot. ”Baby Boy”’s intense subject matter and high-profile stars (Ving Rhames, rapper Snoop Dogg, and model-turned-musician Tyrese) should help it generate about $17 million (or $22 million over five days, since it opened June 27) for a No. 3 finish. ”It’s really hard-edged. ‘Baby Boy’ makes [Singleton’s last movie] ‘Shaft’ look like ‘Annie”’ Bucksbaum says. Paul Dergarabedian of tracking firm Exhibitor Relations says the movie’s got three big pluses: ”The trailer’s good, the music’s good, and they’ve got Snoop Dogg.”

”Dolittle 2” will earn between $15 and $20 million, while ”Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” should take the No. 5 spot with about $10 million. The Chris Rock Show spinoff ”Pootie Tang” and the Kirsten Dunst high school drama ”crazy/beautiful” also open wide, but neither newcomer is likely to see the top five. Analysts say the edgy interracial teen romance is unlikely to have much allure for its target audience of teenage girls. ”It’s basically ‘Save the Last Dance’ without the dance,” says Bucksbaum. Uh oh — that’s totally, like, TRL without the T.

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