It's a battle between the Oscar contenders and the schlock this weekend at the box office -- and the schlock could win.
The horror thriller ''Darkness Falls,'' a star-free flick whose TV ad campaign sells the film as a ''Sixth Sense'' knockoff (complete with monotone-speaking young boy), premieres in some 2,800 theaters, by far the widest opening of the weekend. And though Sunday's Super Bowl will limit its commerical prospects, ''Darkness'' should rise to the top of the charts with $11 million.
Close behind will be the newly-minted Golden Globe Best Picture ''Chicago,'' which expands to almost 800 theaters this weekend. With an exceptionally strong per-theater showing, the musical could gross $10 million. Likewise, last weekend's No. 1 film, the kiddie comedy ''Kangaroo Jack,'' should also earn $10 million, falling 40 percent from its $16.6 million debut.
Rounding out the top five will be another expansion, the George Clooney-directed ''Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,'' starring Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, and Sam Rockwell as ''Gong Show'' host Chuck Barris. It lands in approxmiately 2,000 theaters and should walk away with $9 million, followed closely by Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn's buddy comedy ''National Security,'' which could slip to $8 million in its second weekend. Hey, isn't that about the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad?