"Home Alone," starring Catherine O'Hara and Macaulay Culkin, is expected to overtake "Return of the Jedi" within the next week to 10 days to become the No. 3-ranked all-time movie at the American box office.

Get ready to rewrite the box-office record books again. "Home Alone" has replaced "Jaws" to become the fourth-highest-grossing movie in the United States.But don't write it in ink. Within another week to 10 days, the John Hughes film about an 8-year-old boy defending his house from burglars will overtake "Return of the Jedi" to become the No. 3-ranked film at the box office.

You are probably safe putting that one in ink. "Home Alone" won't scale the heights of either No. 2 ("Star Wars," $322 million) or No. 1 ("E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," $399.8 million).

After 20 weeks in theaters, "Home Alone" has sold $257.5 worth of tickets as of the middle of last week. Two weeks ago, it passed No. 5-ranked "Batman" ($251 million) and, given its current rate, distributor 20th Century Fox predicts it will easily pass the $260 million gross of "Jaws" and the $263 million figure of "Jedi."

Hughes, who wrote and produced the film (Chris Columbus directed), is incredulous over the success of the $18.2 million production. "Who would have guessed it?" he asks, comparing it to his previous efforts, such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and other teen-oriented pictures that have reached plateaus of $70 million - but never beyond. His newest film, "Career Opportunities," which he also wrote and produced, is in his view, "a disappointment" because "I didn't have my usual creative control." The comedy opened to a light $4 million in first-weekend business.

When he was first contemplating "Home Alone," the Chicago-based Hughes recalls, "I was trying real hard to follow (my own) lessons of success and look for something that would write itself - where the situation is so simple and strong that it will unfold naturally.

"The usual take on my films is that they don't perform at the overseas box office," Hughes says. But in 36 nations and territories, "Home Alone" has generated another $135.8 million as of midweek. The movie's "physical comedy," Hughes said, "needs no translation."

The "Home Alone" sequel will only be made if Hughes can reassemble all the elements of the first film, he says. That includes Culkin and other cast members, as well as burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, who will return - if schedules permit.

Wouldn't the crooks be in jail, after being foiled by Kevin in the first movie? "Well, yes," admits Hughes. "But by the time we start making the film, given our penal system, they would probably already be out of prison."

He says the sequel, which could begin shooting in August, may be called "Alone Again" "just to see how many critics will start their reviews, `Alone Again, naturally' " - from the hit '70s Gilbert O'Sullivan song of the same name. - DAVID J. FOX

- HOLLYWOOD OVERHEARD - Listening In on the Lunch Bunch:

The word around Hollywood lunches this week was that ex-Paramount Chairman and CEO Frank Mancuso, who claims he was fired after Stanley Jaffe was appointed president and chief operating officer of parent Paramount Communications, is rounding up a group of investors to buy beleaguered Orion Pictures.

A perfect fit, in the eyes of Hollywood. Orion needs bolstering in marketing and distribution, which is Mancuso's forte. And Mancuso, whom insiders describe as the archetypal corporate executive (not a guy likely to start up the Mancuso Co.), has experience galore with no place to go. Michael Gendler, a lawyer with Irell and Manella, which is representing Mancuso, says the firm prefers not to comment on the rumor.

People are also buzzing about the $45 million Mancuso is seeking in his lawsuit against Paramount. They say it's too low. "Most people would have asked for a lot more," said one studio higher-up. "Not only for violation of his contract, but for mental anguish and harm to his career. But, then, Frank has always been somewhat non-confrontational."

And Mancuso's replacement?

One source says Jaffe is maintaining that he plans to sidestep the usual suspects - which would seem to rule out Paramount veteran-independent producer Ned Tanen, Jaffe's former partner Sherry Lansing, struggling MGM-Pathe's Alan Ladd Jr. and Paramount TV chief Mel Harris. One theory has Jaffe opting for an agent, or at least someone skilled in talent relations, an area in which the studio has recently been weak.

- FLACK ATTACK - Fickle, Fickle, Little Star:

HOLLYWOOD - Julia Roberts' firing of publicist Susan Geller, in the aftermath of a yearlong public relations megablitz that netted the young star a surprising best actress Oscar nomination for "Pretty Woman," has made her the front-runner in other publicists' eyes for the 1991 Ingrate of the Year Award.

Although Roberts made the switch from the independent Geller to the heavyweight celebrity publicity firm PMK before the March 25 Oscar show, the buzz among sympathetic publicists around town is that Roberts blamed Geller for the fact that somebody else - "Misery's" Kathy Bates - won the best actress award.

Neither Geller nor Roberts was available for comment, but one popular theory for the star's decision to dump Geller is that having arrived as the most bankable, best-known young actress in America, she wants her publicity to go into a maintenance mode and feels that PMK - a big firm with offices on both coasts - can better keep the media at bay.

- KISS-AND-TELL FILE - The People Who Hate Her for Writing It Must Be Buying It:

HOLLYWOOD - Julia Phillips' no-holds barred Inside Hollywood book "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" has taken off nationwide, hitting No. 1 on Sunday's New York Times bestseller list. Published the week of Feb. 25, the book is now in its fifth printing and, according to Random House, is being reordered by stores at the rate of 25,000 copies a day.

Phillips is not surprised. "This book touches a lot of deep nerves that have nothing to do with Hollywood," she the Los Angeles Times. "I always knew it would be a civilian hit. There's a lot of anger out there, a lot of people who went belly-up, people who are lost and discovering that money isn't the only issue in life.

"At the risk of sounding pretentious," she continued, "my story is the iconographic, capitalist story of the second half of the 20th century. It's about addiction, loss of the object of my desire. It's a Hollywood book like no other - and I include Norman Mailer's `The Deer Park' in that picture."

Phillips denies that her book is inaccessible to folks who can't tell Michael Eisner from Michael Milken. "I didn't write icons, but `people,' " she said, adding that there is someone like record impresario Irving Azoff in every city, "someone 5 feet tall who runs the local auto dealership - a guy who's angry all the time and makes people miserable."

Still, she acknowledged that "the timing was fortuitous. I never thought that I'd be thanking a Republican president, but the war did end the day before my book came out. The subject matter might have been considered too frivolous otherwise." -ELAINE DUTKA

- WHO'S THE BOSS? - Happy Is Definitely a State of Mind:

HOLLYWOOD - After reading a March 10 story in the Los Angeles Times about Sony's new management at Columbia Pictures, Denise Kostbar - a secretary in the studio's publicity department - wrote a letter to the editor applauding The Times and deriding her bosses. "Finally someone has told of the obscene, vulgar waste of money by the Guber-Peters team," Kostbar wrote in a reference to Columbia chairmen Peter Guber and Jon Peters. "As an employee of Columbia, I am outraged."