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''We Were Soldiers'' captures No. 1

”We Were Soldiers” captures No. 1. Josh Hartnett’s ”40 Days and 40 Nights” grabs the second spot

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Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, ...

Have movie audiences finally grown tired of war films? Maybe. The fourth battle flick to premiere in the last three months, Mel Gibson’s Vietnam epic ”We Were Soldiers,” opened this weekend with an estimated $20.2 million, just barely reaching the studio’s $20 million-to-25 million forecast.

”Soldiers” did fare better than recent war movies ”Behind Enemy Lines” and ”Hart’s War,” which debuted with $18.7 and $8.9 million, respectively. But it couldn’t match the $28.6 million brought in by ”Black Hawk Down” in January. In fact, if the numbers hold, ”Soldiers” will rank as Gibson’s lowest wide-release debut since 1997, when his thriller ”Conspiracy Theory” opened with $19.3 million. (Since then, he’s had successful debuts with ”Lethal Weapon 4,” ”Payback,” ”The Patriot,” and ”What Women Want.” While ”We Were Soldiers” certainly doesn’t qualify as a failure, one has to wonder how much better it would have fared if it hadn’t followed three other war movies.

Opening impressively in second place was Josh Hartnett’s no-sex-for-Lent comedy ”40 Days and 40 Nights,” which grossed $12.5 million. While many teen comedies have performed poorly as of late, Hartnett’s star power (thanks to big-budget projects like ”Pearl Harbor” and ”Black Hawk Down”) combined with a relentless PR and marketing campaign, allowed the mostly female draw to post higher numbers.

Last week’s three runner-up entries each fell one notch to fill out the rest of the top five. Denzel Washington’s crowd-pleasing drama ”John Q” scored third place with $8.4 million, Kevin Costner’s supernatural thriller ”Dragonfly” landed with fourth with $6.8 million, and the Disney cartoon ”Return to Never Land” was close behind with $6.5 million. How could these three entries slip only one place when there were two big new movies in the marketplace? Because last week’s No. 1, the Aaliyah horror thriller ”Queen of the Damned,” plummeted 61 percent to sixth place with only $5.8 million. Apparently the curiosity factor only lasted one weekend.

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