Weekend Forecast
for July 19-21, 2002

By Reagen Sulewski

Not even a morsel for a giant spider.

With the summer season still searching for its breakout hit, there's a potential $40 million film out there this weekend, but surprisingly, it's not the one with all-time box-office champ Harrison Ford in it. Nor is it, as much as I'd like it to be, the one with the giant man-eating spiders. No, it's the film with the creepy little mouse that's the one to beat this weekend. Even should it not live up to those high expectations, there will be a new number one this weekend.

Stuart Little was one of the surprises of 1999, starting small but working its way over the holiday period up to a total of $140 million. That there was a sequel made should surprise no one, and neither should the fact that it could claim one of the top spots for the summer. With that, it could join the illustrious group of summer sequels that vastly outperformed their originals - at least on opening weekend - that includes Austin Powers, American Pie and Rush Hour. What it will try to avoid is the underwhelming performance of last year's Dr. Dolittle 2, which looked uncomfortably stale and fared worse in all respects. However, the ads for Stuart Little 2 have done an excellent job of hitting the high points of the film, being familiar enough without devolving into repetition. Importantly, all the major actors are back, although the live-action characters seem to border on irrelevance at this point; it's not an animated movie, but it might as well be.

With both Spider-Man and Star Wars sitting in or very near the top ten all-time, it's easy to overlook the fact that almost nothing else this year is performing up to par. The summer picture already in release that will probably gross the most is Men in Black II, which looks to probably stall out at $175 million. Stuart Little 2 still carries a bit of the underdog label, if it makes sense to apply that label to a $100 million-plus-budgeted picture, but it's now looking like it could be in the top five for the summer. Just the competent (but not outstanding) trailer that Sony has produced for this film should drive it north of $35 million for the weekend in the current family-friendly box-office climate (cable cartoon shows notwithstanding). With good word-of-mouth, it should challenge Lilo & Stitch for the family crown this summer.

It's been a full two years since Harrison Ford has graced movie screens, and after playing the villain in What Lies Beneath, he plays what would appear to be another on paper, a Soviet sub commander in K-19: The Widowmaker. Although it's not a villain, it's certainly a case of counter-intuitive casting. When you want a Soviet sub captain, is the first person you think of Han Solo or Indiana Jones? Then again, it's certainly no weirder than the casting of The Hunt For Red October, which at least had the decency not to subject us to Sean Connery's interpretation of a Russian accent. In yet another case of celebrity accents gone wrong (see: Costner, Kevin), both Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson have elected to make dialect coaches around the world twitch in reflex to those... sounds coming out of their mouths. OK, so Russian accents are cheesy in the first place, but even Enemy at the Gates had the good sense to let its actors talk without really strong accents.

K-19, at least as portrayed in the ads for the movie, is essentially the Russian version of Crimson Tide. Here's what you'll see: Testosterone-driven exchanges about duty and chain of command, creaking hulls, klaxons sounding while anonymous sailors desperately shout out depth readings; is there anything new that we can reasonably expect from the submarine sub-genre now? If there is, this film doesn't appear to have it. Still, any film with Harrison Ford can't be dismissed, even with out-and-out bomb Random Hearts on his resume now. It should be able to manage a reasonable $23 million for the weekend, but it won't be a world-beater in the long run.

Eight Legged Freaks has already opened this week, the first summer film to try to use the Wednesday opening tactic to get a little breathing room. With a mix of comedy and horror, it resides in the noble people-being-eaten-by-giant-things genre that includes films as varied in scale as Arachnophobia and Jurassic Park. The specific model for this film is Tremors, otherwise known as the small-town-band-of-wackos-in-peril take on things. David Arquette makes a poor substitute for Kevin Bacon, but let's just hand out the award for best marketing of a film right now; even his presence isn't enough to sour me on this movie. In fact, he's even kind of right for the hero role, as it subverts the idea that we should be rooting for the humans. Certainly not ones to miss an easy tie-in, the ads for Freaks have taken advantage of this year's success of Spider-Man to help promote their film with a wink and a nod; not since Chicken Run spoofed both Gladiator and Mission: Impossible in its trailers has this been done to as great an effect. This is to mention nothing of the original trailer, a little masterwork of its own. Warner Brothers has worked its ass off promoting this film, and it's going to pay off.

There's a natural barrier here, though, in that only so many people will be attracted to a deliberate B movie like this. Deep Blue Sea might be the most successful example in the past few years, and even that played it straight for the most part (the Jurassic Park series is excepted under The Spielberg Rule). Lake Placid is closer in spirit to Eight Legged Freaks, and that opened to just over $10 million on this same weekend in 1999 (aside: Arachnophobia's release date in 1990 is almost 12 years to the day to Eight Legged Freaks'; apparently, this date is carved in stone in some Hollywood boardroom as the weekend for creature features). A middle ground opening of about $15 million seems right, given the circumstances, with about $5 million more coming in the two preview days.

Men in Black II and Road to Perdition are the two main holdovers from last weekend, although they're headed in opposite directions. With a greater-than-50% drop, Men in Black II basically sealed its fate in regards to being a top earner; expect a similar fall this weekend to about $12 million. On the other hand, with a terrific $12,000 per-venue average, Road to Perdition looks to be able to build a lengthy campaign. Hanks and company should have a solid lock on third place this weekend, with about $17 million after adding venues. Crocodile Hunter may be able to use its family-friendly demographics to last a few weeks in the top ten, but don't expect the same thing from either Reign of Fire or Halloween: Resurrection. Both of those films come from naturally short-lived genres and drops of over 50% for both would not shock me in the least. The summer keeps pouring out films and it's tough for more than a couple to survive at any one time now.

Forecast: Weekend of July 19-21, 2002
Estimated Gross ($)
Stuart Little 2
K-19: The Widowmaker
Road to Perdition
Eight Legged Freaks
Men in Black II
Reign of Fire
Mr. Deeds
Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course
Lilo & Stitch
Halloween: Resurrection
Minority Report
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