''Time Machine'' will steal the No. 1 spot. Mel's tour of duty is up; ''Soldiers'' will fall to second place
Guy Pearce, The Time Machine

Hot off the heels of Mel Gibson’s $20.2 million opening of ”We Were Soldiers,” another big draw, the update of H.G. Wells’ novel ”The Time Machine,” hits theaters this weekend, looking to attract the same moviegoers who loved ”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The new ”Time Machine” is directed by Wells’ great-grandson, Simon Wells, and stars the ubiquitous Guy Pearce (”Memento,” ”The Count of Monte Cristo”). The thriller, whose trailer features tons of special effects, was originally scheduled to be released last Christmas, so this is a film fans have been anticipating for a while. Because of a lack of any real competition and a wide release (almost 3,000 theaters), ”The Time Machine” should almost match Mel’s numbers from last week and open with about $18 million.

That would push ”We Were Soldiers” back to second place, even though Gibson’s Vietnam drama is likely to hold on pretty well in its second weekend. Since adult films rarely see the big drop-offs of teen draws, ”Soldiers” could decline only 30 percent to gross another $14 million.

The week’s other new entry, the Ice Cube crime caper ”All About the Benjamins,” is likely to premiere in third place, thanks to Cube’s legion of loyal fans, both of his strong film work (”Three Kings,” ”Next Friday”) and his rap records. Reteaming him with his ”Next Friday” costar Mike Epps, ”Benjamins” will bring in the Benjamins — about $8 million worth.

Josh Hartnett’s celibacy comedy ”40 Days and 40 Nights” will drop back to No. 4 after its $12.2 million debut, falling about 40 percent to $7 million, while Denzel Washington’s word-of-mouth hit ”John Q.” should round out the top five, grossing another $6 million, bringing its total near $60 million. If only those funds could have gone to that heart transplant….

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