Liane Bonin
May 08, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

There’s nothing like a little live tiger wrestling to bring in the bloodthirsty crowds. This weekend ”Gladiator” conquered the box office with a hefty $32.7 million, more than the next six films in the top 10 combined. Though men made up more than half the audience, the gore factor didn’t scare off female fans. Positive word of mouth and Russell Crowe’s swashbuckling sex appeal boosted the percentage of women buying tickets from 35 percent on Friday to 45 percent on Saturday. But even live tigers and other exotic game couldn’t help Crowe’s ”L.A. Confidential” costar Kim Basinger, whose movie ”I Dreamed of Africa” debuted in 8th place with a puny $2.5 million. Though Basinger received warm reviews, the film was panned by critics.

The rest of the top 5 held the middle ground between Crowe’s hit and Basinger’s miss. ”U-571” dipped to second place with $7.6 million, bringing its 17-day total to $49.4 million. ”Frequency,” which showed off the best audience retention of last week’s films by dropping just 28 percent, stayed in third place with $6.5 million. ”The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” fell to fourth with $6.3 million, and ”Where the Heart Is” took fifth with $5 million, bringing its total to a paltry $15.7 million.

CRITICAL MASS John Travolta’s heavily hyped ”Battlefield Earth” is opening next weekend, but ”Gladiator” isn’t likely to make room for the sci-fi flick at the top of the charts. According to our online Critical Mass readers poll, ”Gladiator” was a hit with both men and women, who both gave the film a solid A. Seventy-three percent said the film was better than they expected, while an impressive 90 percent said they would definitely recommend the film to friends. Sixty-four percent said they were very likely to see the film again.

But there should be plenty of extra seats at screenings of ”I Dreamed of Africa,” which received a C from EW Online readers. Sixty-seven percent said the movie was worse than they expected, and no one responded that they were very likely to see the film again. Sadly, the only thing audiences seemed to be dreaming of was getting the heck out of the theater.

To vote on these and other current movies, visit our Critical Mass Movie Poll.

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