Field crowded; 'Stuart,' 'Freaks' also debut

Three new wide releases including a pricey submarine drama surface this weekend, amid a growing sense that the summer’s logjam of titles is limiting the potential of individual pics.

Openers this frame include Paramount’s maritime thriller “K-19: The Widowmaker,” Sony’s family laffer “Stuart Little 2″ and Warner Bros.’ horror romp “Eight Legged Freaks.”

“The market’s just too crowded,” a top distribution exec groused recently. “There are too many pictures around.”

Moreover, the crush of titles is so thick that it’s hard to find daylight in any single genre, distribs say.

Still-strong summer popcorners include “Men in Black II,” “Mr. Deeds” and “The Bourne Identity.” And much of the adult audience is preoccupied with the platformed rollout of Tom Hanks starrer “Road to Perdition.”

Kidpics? There’s continuing rugrat-magnet “Lilo & Stitch,” and soph sesher “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course” is biting into ankle-biters’ older siblings.

‘Reign’ vs. ‘Halloween’

The situation has gotten so claustrophobic that Disney last weekend debuted “Reign of Fire” — a youth-oriented actioner about modern dragons — at the same time corporate kin Miramax/Dimension was unspooling young-skewing horror pic “Halloween: Resurrection.” Many believe pics’ overlapping auds chopped millions of dollars off the opening of “Reign,” a pricey production that bowed at a middling $15.6 million.

Into this movie maelstrom heads “K-19: The Widowmaker,” which stars Harrison Ford as a Russian sub captain and has Paramount distribbing for a slew of producers led by Intermedia.

Reportedly an $80 million-plus production, such a pic would normally need a $20 million opening to keep execs confident of profitability. But handicappers figure the crowded marketplace could limit pic’s bow to somewhere in the high teen millions, and it doesn’t help that “K-19″ is a rather glum, if engaging, sort of pic.

Par ‘in pretty good shape’

“Obviously, we’d like to have the market to ourselves, but I think we’re in pretty good shape with the picture,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen said. “It’s sort of counterprogramming aimed at adults, as compared to the other, more popcorn type of pictures that are out there this summer. But do we wish those (other pictures) weren’t there? Absolutely.”

“K-19″ docks in 2,824 locations beginning today.

Elsewhere, Sony — whose “MIB2″ managed the first repeat No. 1 perf last weekend in five frames — holds a good chance of ruling the latest sesh with “Stuart Little 2.”

“Stuart,” which unspools in 3,256 theaters, is tipped to gross well north of $20 million through Sunday. Live actioner-with-animated-mouse franchise is well established with family auds, and a 78-minute running time means exhibs can pack lots of daily show times.

‘Stuart’ had legs

On the other hand, children’s tickets sell more cheaply and thus limit grosses a bit. And like many family films, 1999’s original “Stuart” got to $140 million domestic mostly on the basis of long legs after a decent — but hardly eye-popping — $15 million bow.

“It’s a great family film, and it truly is a film where the whole family should attend,” Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake said. “It’s not a film where you’re likely to have groups of children dropped off (by parents).”

Warner Bros.’ “Eight Legged Freaks,” a humor-laced horror pic starring David Arquette, is the frame’s third wide release.

“Freaks” got a running start with a Wednesday bow in 2,402 locations and broadens a bit today to 2,530 venues. But Friday-Sunday receipts will likely be limited to no more than $10 million.

DreamWorks has boosted “Perdition” to 2,200-plus venues this weekend, and another expansion is planned for the following sesh. Mob drama bowed strongly last weekend with 1,797 playdates amid broad critical kudos, and distrib figures positive word of mouth will keep pic interest high.

Meanwhile, there will be no rest for the weary among Hollywood distribs next weekend. New Line opens presumed B.O. behemoth “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” and Disney unspools yet another kidpic, “The Country Bears.”

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