Dave Karger's box office prediction: The computer-animated sequel ''Ice Age: The Meltdown'' will easily tromp ''ATL'' and ''Basic Instinct 2''

The first real blockbuster of 2006 arrives in multiplexes this weekend — Ice Age: The Meltdown will easily freeze out all of its competition.

Four years after the first Ice Age opened with $46 million, its lovable, computer-animated critters (voiced by Ray Romano and John Leguizamo) are back, with the addition of new costar Queen Latifah. Fox has not only marketed the film aggressively but is also opening it in almost 4,000 theaters, one of the five widest debuts in history. The studio should see a payoff with a opening weekend that surpasses the original’s: Expect The Meltdown to make a very cool $50 million in its first three days.

Last week’s top film, Inside Man, will lose almost half its audience and slip to second place, with $15 million, while three other new releases will complete the top five. OutKast’s Big Boi costars with rapper T.I. in ATL, which should draw hip-hop fans to the tune of $12 million. Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct sequel, which is opening in fewer than half the theaters of Ice Age, will have to settle with a $9 million debut. And yet another horror flick, Slither, enters the marketplace looking to gross about $8 million in its first weekend. But all four runners-up combined may have a hard time topping Ice Age.

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