Dave Karger
July 02, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Physically speaking, it doesn’t seem like a fair battle. But Arnold Schwarzenegger and Reese Witherspoon will duke it out at the box office over the long holiday weekend with their heavily anticipated sequels ”Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and ”Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.” Though the feisty Witherspoon will put up quite a fight, expect Arnold to win the first round.

”Terminator 3” arrives with three strikes against it: an audience-limiting R rating, a star whose latest films, ”Collateral Damage,” ”End of Days” and ”The Sixth Day,” were huge disappointments, and a 12-year gap between ”Terminator” movies. In other words, when the last ”Terminator” film was in theaters, ”T3”’s 17-year-old core audience was in kindergarten.

Still, those former kiddies have definitely caught up with Arnold’s robotic acting on DVD, and they’re more than psyched to see ”T3.” Can it break ”Men in Black 2”’s $87.2 million Fourth of July weekend record? Probably not. But expect ”T3” to rise to the top of the chart with $75 million over the five-day weekend.

As for Ms. Witherspoon, the Elle Woods fan club should come out in full force for ”Legally Blonde 2.” The first ”Blonde” opened with $20.4 million, while Witherspoon’s last film, ”Sweet Home Alabama,” became the best-opening romantic comedy ever with $35.6 million. ”Blonde 2” should do even better, premiering with $45 million over the long weekend.

Last week’s No. 1 movie, ”Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” will certainly take a hit from ”Legally Blonde.” But it won’t see a horrific drop-off like ”Hulk” did. About $35 million (over five days) seems in order for the sequel. This would mark mark the first time the top three spots were held by sequels since last November, when ”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” ”Die Another Day,” and ”The Santa Clause 2” ruled.

The week’s other new release is the DreamWorks animated film ”Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” featuring the voices of Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michelle Pfeiffer. But with its more serious tone and partially hand-drawn animation, it won’t see fantastic numbers like ”Finding Nemo” did. In fact, both films could end up earning the same amount, around $25 million, this weekend. If that happens, ”Hulk” — which should gross another $15 million — will fall swiftly out of the top five altogether. That should really make him angry.

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