'Road to Perdition' Squeaks Past 'Stuart Little 2' in Photo Finish
A little talking mouse squished giant spiders and sank a Russian submarine, but was unable to defeat some damnation-bound gangsters to claim the top spot for the weekend ending July 21, according to actual numbers issued Monday.

In what turned out to be a closer box office race than the Minority Report versus Lilo & Stitch battle four weeks ago, Stuart Little 2 fell short of Road to Perdition by $297,363, despite studio estimates on Sunday pegging it to squeak past the Tom Hanks drama by $30,000.

Traveling into 362 more theaters for a total of 2,159, Road moved up from No. 2 to No. 1 by posting a modest 30% decline to $15,412,515, the lowest gross for a No. 1 picture since the $14,757,535 Feb. 22-24 haul of Queen of the Damned. In 10 days, the $80 million DreamWorks-20th Century Fox co-production has garnered $47,304,790, and is falling in line with their plan for a slow roll-out in hopes that their picture will be the last summer movie standing come autumn when Oscar campaigning kicks into full gear.

DreamWorks is following the Forrest Gump pattern by opening modestly the weekend after the Fourth of July and then expanding the next weekend. Gump added 419 theaters in its second weekend for a total of 2,019 and saw business ease just 1% to $24,125,273 on its way to winning Best Picture. Contact employed similar tactics in the wake of the first Men in Black by jumping 271 theaters to 2,194. It fell 22% to $16,114,633 for a 10-day tally of $47,408,514. Though it ultimately ascended past the $100 million mark, it didn't win any Oscars.

Playing at 3,255 venues—1,096 more than RoadStuart Little 2 mustered $15,115,152, nearly $500,000 less than Sony's estimate. The $120 million family flick predictably skewed younger as 85% of moviegoers were kids under the age of 12 and their parents, according to studio exit polling.

Stuart's second adventure barely eked past the debut of his first, which trapped $15,018,223 at 2,878 theaters the weekend before Christmas in 1999. Christmas is prone to smaller openings for family flicks as business shifts more in favor of the weekdays. That enabled it to rack up $140,035,367 by the end of its run. Adjusted for inflation, its opening would equal close to $17 million today, so Stuart Little 2 actually sold fewer tickets out of the gate. What's more, it won't have the legs of the original, since it's a summertime sequel. If it holds up like last summer's Dr. Dolittle 2—which also had a soft debut relative to its predecessor but held up strongly—it should gross $70 million tops, or about half of its predecessor.

Men in Black II leveled off a bit after its 53% sophomore slide with a decline closer to the original's 37% third weekend dip. The sci-fi comedy sequel fell 40% to $14,552,335 for a 19-day tally of $158,127,629. It still will be hard pressed to cross the $200 million mark, compared to the original's $250,690,539.

Harrison Ford may have given "his most astonishing performance yet" as the K-19: The Widowmaker ads highlighted (even though it's not exactly a positive comment), but audiences were largely indifferent, bestowing the star with a $12,778,459 opening at 2,828 sites—his smallest since the $5,563,259 bow of 1995's Sabrina. The audience was 60% over the age of 30, and there were slightly more men than women, according to distributor Paramount.

Ford was reportedly paid $25 million to topline the $100 million submarine thriller, despite the decidedly uncommercial Cold War subject matter and Russian accents. The trailer may have turned off audiences with its patriotic fervor for Soviet Russia, our defunct former enemy. The title was a bit clunky as well, making one wonder whether "The Widowmaker" part was added so people wouldn't confuse the movie with a breakfast cereal or a sequel to the cop-and-canine flick K-9.

The timing may have sunk K-19 as the successful submarine thrillers have been coming in five-year intervals—The Hunt for Red October in 1990, Crimson Tide in 1995 and U-571 in 2000. Adjust for ticket price inflation, each of their openings would equal over $20 million today.

When the marketing campaign made a sudden shift to MTV-style action, K-19's troubled waters were readily apparent. New commercials were scored with hard rock music, replacing the heroic Gladiator theme that had been dominant before. Other movies that have resorted to such tactics include the bombs The Last Castle and Hart's War.

At No. 7, Eight Legged Freaks snared $6,485,458 at 2,530 theaters for $9,080,158 since its Wednesday berth. The self-conscious $30 million "B" movie bowed to significantly lower business than Arachnophobia—which opened on the same weekend in 1990 and on a Wednesday. That picture grabbed $10,453,492 in its first five days at over 1,000 fewer theaters (a figure which equal about $14 million adjusted for ticket price inflation). It went on to earn $53,208,180.

Each of the sophomore holdovers lost over half their audience.

Reign of Fire cooled 53% to $7,317,994 for $29,246,331 in 10 days. The last major dragon movie Dragonheart dove 49% to $7,636,140 in its comparable frame on its way to $51,385,0101. At its current pace, Reign might not be able pass the $50 million mark by the time it's extinguished.

Halloween: Resurrection hemorrhaged 55% to $5,520,536 for a 10-day haul of $21,952,979. By comparison, Halloween: H20 fell 48% to $8,478,537 in its second weekend for $40,105,328 in 12 days on its way to $55,041,738. The $13 million Resurrection probably has about $10 million worth of box office life left in it.

Crikey! The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course took a 51% tumble to $4,667,895 for $18,726,625 in 10 days. The $12 million family movie starring Animal Planet's Steve Irwin should go extinct close to $30 million, thanks in part to strong mid-week business.

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The top 12 pictures grossed $103.0 million, down 20.5% from last weekend and down 23.7% from the same frame last year when Jurassic Park III devoured $50,771,645 at 3,434 theaters en route to $181,171,875. America's Sweethearts wooed $30,181,877 at 3,011 on its way to $93,607,673.