By the Numbers: July 19

Saving a crew of Russian submariners from a watery grave should prove an easier task for Harrison Ford than winning this weekend’s box office derby against a spunky mouse with human-like qualities.

K-19: The Widowmaker represents Ford‘s first action thriller since 1997’s Air Force One, but that by no means guarantees a bigger opening than Stuart Little 2. The sequel to 1999’s surprise smash hit scurried into 3,255 theaters, runs a mere 77 minutes and enjoys huge awareness among young audiences who have already turned Scooby-Doo and Lilo & Stitch into summer blockbusters. Based on a true Cold War-era incident, K-19 will crash-dive into 2,824 theaters, but runs 138 minutes and faces stiff competition from Tom HanksRoad to Perdition for adults looking for an intelligent summer offering.

Essentially a Cold War remake of Run Silent, Run Deep, K-19 recounts how Russian bureaucracy and inefficiency led to the 1961 disabling of a Soviet submarine and a possible nuclear meltdown. Ford, serving as the submarine’s captain, spends as much of his time trying to save his men as he does clashing with second-in-command Liam Neeson. Director Kathryn Bigelow tells K-19 solely from a Russian perspective, which could provoke apathy from some teens uninterested in Cold War politics.

Oddly, Ford serves as both K-19‘s primary asset and liability. Ford‘s decision to adopt a Russian accent as the commander of a disabled Soviet nuclear submarine might distract audiences from the task at hand. It does seem unnecessary for Ford to try his hand at such an accent considering the Russians have no verbal interactions with their U.S. counterparts.

Yet audiences always turn out en masse to see Ford save the day. The 1990s saw Ford score with The Fugitive ($183.8 million), Air Force One ($172.6 million) and Clear and Present Danger ($122 million). Plus, this is an opportunity to see Han Solo butt heads with Qui-Gon Jinn.

Also, audiences seem to enjoy spending time trapped within the confines of a jeopardized submarine. The Hunt for Red October ($17.1 million opening; $120.7 million total), Crimson Tide ($18.6 million opening; $91.3 million total) and U-571 ($19.5 million opening; $77 million total) all weathered rough seas to become successful by varying degrees.

Given Ford‘s stature, K-19 should open around The Fugitive‘s $23.7 million. (In a twist of irony, K-19 won’t muster enough energy to exceed The Sum of All Fears‘s $31.1 opening and $115 million total through Sunday. Ford declined to star in the fourth Jack Ryan yarn, allowing Ben Affleck to revitalize the franchise.)

K-19‘s future then depends upon whether it can withstand strong competition from Road to Perdition. If so, K-19 could dock somewhere between the totals of Crimson Tide and U-571.

Road to Perdition widens by several hundred theaters this weekend after a superb $22.1 million at a modest 1,797 theaters. That could put some older adults in a bind as they found themselves choosing between Road to Perdition and K-19.

DreamWorks deliberately kept the theater count low in order to prevent the 1930s-era gangster saga from rapidly burning out, a strategy that’s worked thus far. Road to Perdition opened better than HanksThe Green Mile ($18 million) and close to Apollo 13 ($25.3 million) and Forrest Gump ($24.4 million).

With $31.8 million through Thursday, Road to Perdition could hit $50 million by this weekend. The presumed Oscar contender is on track to break $100 million long before Labor Day. This would give Sam Mendes his second consecutive $100 million smash, following his Oscar-winning American Beauty ($130 million).

Keep an eye on your cheese, Mickey Mouse, ’cause Stuart Little’s back!

Families embraced the smartly dressed rodent during the winter of 1999, when Stuart Little debuted with $15 million

en route to a $140 million total. The first film introduced the CGI-animated Stuart Little, voiced by Michael J. Fox, as the adopted child of Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie. The sequel, also directed by Rob Minkoff, now requires the brave mouse to traverse New York City in order rescue a bird voiced by Melanie Griffith.

Interest is waning in Lilo & Stitch and Scooby-Doo, so Stuart Little 2 should appease children and parents alike family market until the Aug. 7 arrival of Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. The talking mouse should fend off an attack next weekend by those singing grizzlies, The Country Bears.

Stuart should squeak with joy this weekend. Stuart Little 2‘s built-in audience should allow it to double its predecessor’s debut. Aiding Stuart’s cause: families have thoroughly rejected Hey Arnold! The Movie ($12.6 million through Sunday) and The Powerpuff Girls Movie ($9.6 million). Still, Stuart’s second escapade might not be as popular as his first, which showed strong endurance after a good debut. Stuart Little 2 should settle for about $110 million after a dynamic opening.

Stuart Little 2 will stop kids from making their second or third trips to Lilo & Stitch and Scooby-Doo. The Disney-animated yarn, which has $123.4 million through Thursday, should slightly exceed Dinosaur‘s $137.7 million total. With $144.9 million through Sunday, Scooby-Doo will dig up a $155 million total, certainly enough to justify its projected 2004 sequel.

Reptiles don’t seem to bother Steve Irwin, but a rodent such as Stuart Little might scare away his audience.

The family-friendly The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course last weekend took in a less-than-snappy $9.5 million, and has just $14 million through Thursday. No doubt Irwin‘s diehard fans caught him in theaters last weekend, and Stuart Little 2 will likely take a big bite out of The Crocodile Hunter‘s pre-teen audience this weekend.

By tumbling by at least 50 percent in its second weekend, The Crocodile Hunter will barely make it past $25 million. That might make MGM executives think twice about exploiting the popularity of a cable-TV star without providing audiences with a viewing different experience from what they already receive on the small screen.

The summer could belong to Jonathan Lipnicki. When not playing with adopted brother Stuart Little, Lipnicki‘s hanging out on the basketball court with Lil’ Bow Wow.

Stuart Little 2 should not cause too much harm to the NBA fairy tale that is Like Mike, which draws slightly older boys. Besides, Stuart Little 2 doesn’t feature Lil’ Bow Wow going one-on-one with the troubled Allen Iverson.

Like Mike dropped a respectable 37 percent in its second weekend, from $12.1 million to $7.8 million, and has $36.9 million through Thursday. Like Mike should easily exceed the $53.1 million total generated by the kiddie baseball fantasy tale Rookie of the Year.

Scared of spiders?

Then avoid Eight Legged Freaks, a campy throwback to the old monster B-movies of the 1950s. Spilled toxic waste turns ordinary spiders into gigantic killing machines. Only David Arquette

and direct-to-video vixen Kari Wuhrer can stop the destruction of their small Arizona town. Perhaps it doesn’t bode well for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, employed as the nation’s nuclear waste repository.

More Tremors than Arachnophobia, Eight Legged Freaks offers an easygoing but unimaginative combination of laughs and chills. Arquette doesn’t make a particularly charismatic hero, but with Eight Legged Freaks, all that matters is how the spiders end up splattered. The special effects certainly don’t rival those of Men in Black II, but the same folks who giggle at the antics of Agents Jay and Kay will lap up Eight Legged Freaks wholeheartedly.

Eight Legged Freaks got a jump on the competition by opening Wednesday. Its two-day total of $2.5 million might justify Warner Bros.’ decision to delay the formerly titled Arac Attack from the spring to summer. Eight Legged Freaks could emerge as a summer sleeper if it can double Arachnophobia‘s $8 million opening and exceed its disappointing $53.2 million total.

The serious-minded Reign of Fire took a slight hit following Wednesday’s spider invasion. The post-apocalyptic showdown between man and dragon dropped $1.6 million on Tuesday, to $1.4 million on Wednesday, and to $1.3 million on Thursday. Audiences, though, might prefer to see the lighthearted Eight Legged Freaks this weekend than the dark and brooding Reign of Fire, which has $21.9 million through Thursday.

Reign of Fire‘s less-than-sizzling $15.6 million opening slightly beat the $15 million debut by 1996’s Dragonheart. Losing too much heat this weekend could result in Reign of Fire barely matching Dragonheart‘s $51.3 million total. That task is made all the more difficult by the presence of those Eight Legged Freaks.

MIBII‘s illegal extraterrestrial aliens also could fall victims to those mutated spiders. The sequel to the 1997 smash sci-fi spoof dropped a 53 percent in its second weekend, from $52.1 million to $24.4 million. That tumble was expected following tepid reviews. In comparison, Men in Black eroded by 41.1 percent in its second weekend, from $51 million to $30 million, for a total of $139.5 million.

With $143.5 million through Thursday, MIBII certainly won’t top its predecessor’s $250.1 million total. Instead, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld should brace themselves for a third weekend of about $13 million and a total barely breaking $200 million. Still, MIBII already ranks as the biggest hit for the three since Men in Black.

Halloween came early this year, and that benefitted one of the horror genre’s most notorious serial killers. Halloween: Resurrection sliced up $12.2 million during its opening weekend. Michael Myers’ bloody rampage claimed an unexpected victim, which no doubt attracted many during its debut but could ultimately prove the franchise’s undoing.

Resurrection failed to top the $16.1 million debut of its predecessor, Halloween: H20, which profited solely from the return of Jamie Lee Curtis. Resurrection, which has $16.4 million through Thursday, certainly won’t top H20‘s $55 million. And, given that Myers’ biggest fans have already cheered on him during his latest killing spree, Resurrection will likely take a 50 percent tumble in its second weekend. The body count will come to an end at around $30 million. Still, don’t expect this to be the last we see of Myers.

Also, can we soon expect to see CIA assassin Jason Bourne on the run again? Matt Damon‘s The Bourne Identity earned a total $100.4 million on Tuesday, making it the ninth 2002 release to attain blockbuster status. Next up would be The Bourne Supremacy, based on the second in the trilogy of novels by Robert Ludlum.

Damon also was to star in Minority Report, but dropped out to complete Ocean’s Eleven. Minority Report has done OK with Colin Farrell in the role of on-the-run cop Tom Cruise‘s pursuer, having earned $113.6 million through Thursday.

Mr. Deeds on Thursday became the 10th 2002 release to cross $100 million. Adam Sandler‘s unnecessary remake of director Frank Capra‘s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town has $100.3 million through Thursday, with a total $120 million to $130 million likely. Fans clearly prefer Sandler when his archetypal buffoon with a heart of gold doesn’t come with horns and a pitchfork.