I’m still refining and cross-checking the numbers, but late last week American Gangster, which was three weeks away from its 11.2 release date, was tracking better than The Departed did two weeks from release. Thursday’s numbers (i.e., two days from now) will probably show a bump, but the huge numbers aren’t just from the male sector. Women, a bit surprisingly, are showing higher-than-normal awareness and interest levels. The definite interest is roughly 50% across the board, and in the vicinity of 60% for over-25 males.

Translated, this means the opening weekend should be in excess of $30 million. No scientific readings required — it’s merely the combination of eyeball-to-eyeball Denzel, bull-in-the-china-shop Crowe and the title. A portion of critics are respectful of Gangster but unsure of its Oscar prospects because it didn’t make them cry; presumably there are Academy and guild people who feel the same way. But reservations of this sort tend to melt away when big money is being made. Gangster‘s tracking, of course, doesn’t indicate “big money” — it promises a big opening weekend.

Manhattan hot-shot entertainment journo Lewis Beale says “it’s a terrific film, it has the best title ever, and if the crowd I saw it with at 84th and Broadway was any indication (very urban, very mixed demographically), it’s gonna get great word-of-mouth. If this isn’t a $100 million film, I don’t know what is.”