July 02, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Moviegoers revealed an ambivalence toward artifice this weekend as ”A.I. Artificial Intelligence” topped the box office with a lower than expected estimated take of $30.1 million. Analysts had predicted that the sci-fi offering from cinematic titan Steven Spielberg would score as much as $50 million. Nevertheless, the three day gross is unlikely to disappoint studio execs. Industry watchers note that ”A.I.” — which stars Haley Joel Osment as an misbegotten roboboy and Jude Law as his gigolo pal — is a heavier film than most summer blockbusters, not unlike Spielberg’s last drama, the highly graphic ”Saving Private Ryan,” which opened with $30.6 million in June 1998.

Like ”Ryan,” analysts say ”A.I.” should have a lengthy lifespan in theaters in part because the film’s excellent performances and top of the line special effects almost ensure that it will be a focal point at Oscar time. ”This is going to be one of the most talked about films of the year,” says Paul Dergarabedian of box office tracking firm Reel Source. ”I wouldn’t be surprised to see it nominated for an Academy Award.”

The surprise hit ”The Fast and the Furious” downshifted to the No. 2 spot, losing more than half of its $40.7 million debut audience for a $20 million take. Eddie Murphy’s ”Dr. Dolittle 2” grabbed the No. 3 spot with $15.4 million, while ”Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” took No. 4 with $9.8 million. ”Baby Boy,” the latest offering from ”Boyz N the Hood” director John Singleton, rounded out the top five with $8.6 million. The South Central L.A. set drama has earned $11.7 million since opening June 27.

CRITICAL MASS EW.com’s readers are as divided as the pundits over ”A.I.,” which was begun by Spielberg’s friend and guru, the late art house titan Stanley Kubrick. Voters gave the cerebral fantasy a B overall, slightly lower than the critics’ average of B+. A significant 59 percent said the Spielberg name drew them into theaters — but many were unsure they liked what they saw. About 40 percent said they thought the film was better than they expected, while the same number said that the filmmakers’ collaboration was a disappointment.

Voters were less mixed regarding Singleton’s ”Baby Boy.” The director’s first return to the L.A. hood since his debut ”Boyz” earned a B from readers, right on par with the critics’ average of B. A healthy 62 percent said the relationship drama was better than they had expected and the same number said they would definitely recommend it to friends. That’s all right, ”Baby.”

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