Rodent, Hanks go neck and neck at box office

— A talking mouse and a vengeful mob hitman fought to a virtual tie for the No. 1 film during an unusually slow weekend at theaters.

"Stuart Little 2," the sequel about the lovable rodent with Michael J. Fox's voice, debuted with $15.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. That was a whisker ahead of "Road to Perdition." The Depression-era gangster tale starring Tom Hanks grossed $15.57 million in its second weekend.

Rankings could change when final numbers are released today.

"We'll settle it tomorrow, Stuart against Tom Hanks," said Jeff Blake, head of distribution for Sony, which released "Stuart Little 2."

"Men in Black II," the No. 1 movie for two straight weekends, fell to third place with $15 million, lifting its 19-day total to $158.6 million.

The top 12 films grossed $104.4 million for Friday through Sunday. That was down 23 percent from the same weekend last year and broke a string of six straight weekends of rising revenues.

"This communal momentum that's been pushing people toward theaters wasn't there this weekend," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "That's not to say this was a bad weekend. It just wasn't remarkable."

Harrison Ford's Soviet submarine drama "K-19: The Widowmaker" premiered at No. 4 with $13.1 million. Distributor Paramount had expected the movie would be in the $18 million to $20 million range.

The giant-bug flick "Eight Legged Freaks," starring David Arquette, was seventh with $6.7 million, pushing its total to $9.3 million since opening Wednesday.

"Tadpole," a comedy hit at the Sundance Film Festival, opened strongly in limited release, taking in $80,000 at six theaters. Starring Sigourney Weaver, John Ritter and Bebe Neuwirth, the film recounts a precocious teenager's romantic longing for his stepmother.

The original "Stuart Little" debuted with $15 million just before Christmas in 1999, then remained weekend after weekend and became a $140 million hit.

"With a family film, you hope for a good opening and great legs," Blake said. "You hope for seven-day-a-week business, where whatever you lose in opening weekend you hope to pick up in the longevity of the picture. That was the case with the first one, and I think 'Stuart' will be fine going forward."

Playing in 3,255 theaters, "Stuart Little 2" averaged a modest $4,793 a cinema, compared to a $5,218 average for the original film.

"Road to Perdition" expanded to 2,159 theaters, up 362 from opening weekend, and averaged $7,212. Its 10-day total stands at $47.5 million.

"K-19" averaged $4,632 in 2,828 theaters, and "Eight Legged Freaks" had an average of $2,648 in 2,530 cinemas.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.

1. "Stuart Little 2," $15.6 million.

1. "Road to Perdition," $15.57 million.

3. "Men in Black II," $15 million.

4. "K-19: The Widowmaker," $13.1 million.

5. "Mr. Deeds," $7.3 million.

6. "Reign of Fire," $7.1 million.

7. "Eight Legged Freaks," $6.7 million.

8. "Halloween: Resurrection," $5.4 million.

9. "Lilo & Stitch," $5.1 million.

10. "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," $4.8 million.

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