‘Stuart Little’: The Little Mouse That Could

Stuart Little” may squeak softly, but he carried a big cheese stick at the box office during New Year’s weekend.

Columbia Pictures’ animated talking mouse movie returned to the No. 1 spot, surging ahead of Al Pacino and Matt Damon and claiming a place in the cinema record book.

With total receipts topping $7 billion for the first time ever, 1999 was a record-setting year at the U.S. box office. “Stuart Little” closed out the year with another historical footnote by grossing an estimated $52 million during the final week of the century, the most ever for a family-oriented film during the Christmas-to-New-Year period, according to studio officials.

The film, which bowed at No. 1 two weeks ago, then slipped to third place over the Christmas weekend, entered Y2K by rebounding with an estimated $16 million in its third weekend.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ three-hour-long death row drama “The Green Mile,” starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan, also experienced a surprising resurgence, climbing back to the No. 2 spot with an estimated $13.2 million in its fourth week. “The Green Mile,” which has now taken in more than $78 million since its release, had dropped to No. 5 last weekend.

With the kids out of school for the holidays, other grown-up films suffered slight setbacks. “Any Given Sunday,” Oliver Stone‘s football saga starring Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz, dropped from No. 1, where it debuted last weekend, to No. 3 with an estimated $13.1 million for the Friday-to-Sunday frame.

Disney and Pixar Animation’s “Toy Story 2” continued to hold strong in its seventh week with $12.1 million, making it the weekend’s fourth-highest-grossing film. “Toy Story 2” passed the $200 million mark (it has grossed an estimated $209 million), but studio officials were not immediately sure whether that occurred Friday — which would make it the fourth $200 million movie of 1999, along with “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace,” “The Sixth Sense” and “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” — or Saturday.

After opening Christmas Day and posting an impressive two-day total of $13.8 million for the No. 2 spot last weekend, Paramount and Miramax’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” directed by Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient“) and starring Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, was pushed down to No. 5 with an even $12 million.

Jeff Blake, Columbia’s president of worldwide distribution, said today that “Stuart Little” is now expected to gross at least $125 million before it fades out. He said studio polls show that the film’s audiences are not made up strictly of kids and families, as may have been expected.

“It’s not just little kids being dropped off at the theater,” Blake said. “It’s getting a much wider cross-section than you’d expect for a film of this type. According to our information, at least 25 percent of the audience is adults or families without children.”

Blake said “Stuart Little” surpassed records previously set by both “Home Alone” ($48.5 million) and the original “Toy Story” ($46.4 million) to become the biggest-grossing family film ever during the holiday week.

It is the fifth-highest-grossing film overall during the Christmas-to-New-Year skein.

“We believe it has real franchise possibilities, and we’re going to start off the new year by discussing the possibility of a sequel,” Blake added.

There were no major new releases, so the bottom half of the weekend’s Top 10 was also made up of holdovers from previous frames, including several highly touted films with major stars that have failed to meet expectations.

Dreamworks’ “Galaxy Quest,” starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman as the washed-up cast of a “Star Trek”-like show who are recruited to fight in a real-life intergalactic war, moved up one notch to No. 6 in its second weekend, posting an estimated $9.7 million. It has now made a total of $27.2 million.

Two Disney offerings also ascended one rank in the weekend Top 10: “Bicentennial Man,” a family drama that stars Robin Williams as a sympathetic robot, moved up from No. 8 to No. 7 and pulled in an estimated $8 million over the weekend; and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” the bawdy comedy starring “Saturday Night Live” alum Rob Schneider as a bumbling male prostitute, continued to defy logic and made another $5.3 million, moving up from the ninth spot to No. 8. “Deuce’s” cumulative box office total is about $46 million.

The cellar dwellers, in ninth and 10th place, were Universal’s “Man on the Moon” and 20th Century Fox’s “Anna and the King,” respectively. “Man on the Moon,” starring Jim Carrey in a critically acclaimed biographical portrayal of the late “Taxi” comedian Andy Kaufman, made just $5.2 million and slipped three places compared with last weekend. Since it opened Dec. 22, “Moon” has earned an estimated $24.4 million, even though it was one of the most hyped-in-advance films of the season.

“I think it’s playing well in more of the upscale, sophisticated markets, and in the boonies, it’s not doing anything,” Universal executive Jeff Sakson said today. “I think the word has spread that ‘Man on the Moon‘ is clever, hip, smart and upscale, but it’s not a Jim Carrey movie in the usual sense.

“I guess you have to like Andy Kaufman to like this movie, and that may have transcended the good things about it.”

“Anna and the King,” the lavishly produced dramatic version of “The King and I” starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, held feebly onto the bottom rung for the second weekend in a row, grossing an estimated $4.8 million. “Anna” has now grossed an estimated $24.2 over three weeks.

Based on their stars’ track records, both “Moon” and “Anna” are shaping up to be major disappointments: Carrey‘s last film, 1998’s “The Truman Show,” grossed more than $125 million domestically while Foster’s 1997 science-fiction drama “Contact” made more than $100 million.

Although complete year-end box office totals were not immediately available Sunday, estimates released in December indicated that total ticket sales were expected to hit $7.5 billion at the domestic box office, an increase of 7 percent from last year’s then record of $6.95 billion. Roughly 1.5 billion movie tickets were sold — the most in 40 years, and 17 films grossed more than $100 million, led by “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace” with $429.9 million.

“To have 17 films grossing $100 million or more is even more astounding than setting a new record for total box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box-office tracking firm. “These 17 films, if you total up their [cumulative grosses], the total revenue for them is $2.1 billion. That tells you how strong the overall box office is.”