‘Little’ to cheer at B.O.

Mousy 'Stu 2' ties for top in wake of sub-par 'K-19' bow

That great sucking sound this weekend was American moviegoers responding with a collective yawn to the latest batch of film offerings.

As a result, the road to box office supremacy was paved in mediocrity over a broadly lackluster frame. Sony’s family laffer “Stuart Little 2” bowed with an estimated $15.6 million to tie for the No. 1 spot with DreamWorks’ expanding soph-sesher “Road to Perdition.”

Sony’s “Men in Black 2” finished third in its third weekend with an estimated $15 million, while Paramount opened Intermedia’s Harrison Ford starrer “K-19: The Widowmaker” at a disappointing $13.1 million in fourth place.

Sony’s Adam Sandler laffer “Mr. Deeds” was fifth with $7.3 million, while Disney soph sesher “Reign of Fire” was sixth with a crunching 54% drop from the previous frame to $7.1 million.

‘Eight’ seventh

And Warner Bros. humor-laced horror pic “Eight Legged Freaks” could place no higher than seventh with an estimated Friday-Sunday gross of $6.7 million. “Freaks,” a co-production with Village Roadshow, bowed on Wednesday, and its five-day cume was $9.3 million.

Industrywide, the weekend was off 18% from the same frame a year ago at $120 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. One problem was a comparison with a year-earlier sesh in which “Jurassic Park 3” bowed with a ferocious $50.8 million and “America’s Sweethearts” opened with a sweet $30.2 million.

But there also seemed to be a difficulty this weekend with catching the interest of prospective moviegoers, who suddenly went AWOL after packing theaters for weeks on end. Before the latest sesh, 21 of the past 22 weekends were marked by better industrywide grosses than in the same frame a year earlier.

“Everybody took a breath this weekend,” EDI exec veep Dan Marks observed.

Year-to-date, 2002 is still 17% ahead of the same portion of last year at $5.13 billion in total grosses.

“Perdition,” which DreamWorks co-produced with foreign distrib 20th Century Fox, added 362 playdates after Tom Hanks starrer bowed at $22 million last week. There was no immediate indication if distrib would increase its print run again on Friday.

Partly due to this week’s added engagements, “Perdition” kept its soph-sesh drop to a modest 29%. It remains to be scene whether that augurs strong legs for the mob-themed drama, however.

Pic has drawn broad critical kudos but is a far more downbeat film than topliner’s best-grossing movies. And there are still months before meaningful Oscar-nom handicapping begins, a process that could generate welcome publicity for a weighty film like “Perdition.”

Meanwhile, though no single pic generated sufficient excitement this weekend to serve as a moviegoing catalyst, next sesh’s “Austin Powers in Goldmember” could shake the ennui. New Line has been marketing franchise’s second sequel aggressively, and there’s broad expectation of a big “Austin” bow.

Family-pic overkill?

On the other hand, some suggest “Stuart” suffered from family-pic overkill this weekend. And that could concern Disney, which bows family-aimed live actioner “The Country Bears” on Friday.

“Stuart” shared B.O. with top-tenners “Lilo & Stitch” ($5.1 million in ninth place) and “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course” ($4.8 million, 10th place).

Still, Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake noted “Stuart” — again helmed by Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”) — bested 1999’s $15 million bow of franchise original. And he added the hope that sequel will display legs as sturdy as its progenitor, which went on to gross an impressive $140 million domestically.

Sony execs also took heart in studio’s grabbing three of the frame’s top five spots. Notable perf was helped by distrib’s placing pics in an amazing 10,000 theaters over the frame.

“K-19,” helmed by Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”), was considered an important pic for financially challenged Intermedia. German film concern was the main producer on the pricey “K-19,” which had a complicated development arc featuring additional involvement of National Geographic, Polomar Pictures, First Light and IMF.

Pic had been expected to open in the high teen millions.

“The tracking had led us to believe we would do better than this,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen acknowledged.

But industryites suggested prospective moviegoers were uninspired by pic’s story concept, which starred Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson as Russian submarine captains in a Cold War yard long on tension but devoid of actual combat.

Pic played to auds 55% male and 60% over age 30.

“Eight Legged Freaks,” starring David Arquette (“See Spot Run”) and directed by tyro helmer Ellory Elkayem, was produced for a relatively modest $30 million. Pic played to auds 58% male and 53% under age 21.

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman said ratings in exit polling for the quirky arachnid scarefest gives him hope “Freaks” can “leg it out” in future frames despite the lack of moviegoer support this weekend.

“They weren’t up for a little camp romp with spiders,” Fellman shrugged.

In a limited bow this weekend, Miramax’s coming-of-age comedy “Tadpole” grossed an estimated $80,000 from four theaters in L.A. and two in Gotham, or an average $13,300 per venue. “Tadpole” swims into top 20 markets Friday.

Lions Gate drama “Lovely and Amazing” added 98 engagements for a total 110 and grossed an estimated $550,000. That repped $5,000 per playdate, with “Lovely” broadening to 160 runs on Friday.

IFC Films’ expanded laffer “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” 36 theaters to a total 531 and grossed an estimated $2.5 million, or $4,780 per venue. Perf boosted “Wedding” cume to $30.9 million. And Palm drama “Sex and Lucia” held in seven L.A. and Gotham locations for an estimated $42,170, or an average $6,024. Cume reached $119,713 as “Lucia” travels to seven additional cities on Friday.

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