Public Enemies, Johnny Depp

Universal Pictures

A would-be Oscar vehicle doesn't go up against a giant-robot movie and live to tell about it.

Or does it...?

Johnny Depp's Public Enemies, the period gangster drama with Oscar aspirations that opens Wednesday, was expected to acquit itself OK in a box office battle with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Which is not the same as saying it's going to topple the Michael Bay behemoth.

Chad Hartigan, a box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, is calling for Public Enemies to gross in the high $20 millions to low $30 millions, and finish its first weekend in third place, behind Revenge of the Fallen and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, another giant popcorn picture, likewise opening Wednesday.

The projected gross would mark a career best for director Michael Mann (Collateral), a bigger-than-average debut for a non-Pirates of the Caribbean Depp movie—and a turnaround for a year that's been especially unkind to grown-up movies in which the grown-ups don't fly.

But it would not be near enough to best Revenge of the Fallen, which could plunge 60 percent from last weekend—and still collect another $43 million or so.

In the end, the business of taking out giant robots is probably best left to wizards.

And, yes, that's a hint that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is nigh.

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