BOX OFFICE: NOT SUPER BAD BUT NOT SUPER GOOD, EITHER.

The summer box office is believed to have inched past the $4-billion mark over the weekend, thereby surpassing the record of $3.95 billion set in 2004. (Last year's total was $3.63 billion.) It occurred over a late-August weekend, which studios still consider a time when young moviegoers are preparing to return to school and have had their fill of expensive Hollywood productions. (In fact, the new record was attributed to higher ticket prices; the number of tickets sold was well below 2004's.) As it turned out, the studios dumped five relatively low-budget films into the megaplexes and none could beat the better holdovers. The one that performed the best was the one that few analysts held out much hope for. Rowan Atkinson's G-rated Mr. Bean's Holiday raked in $10.1 million in just 1,714 theaters. That works out to about $5,900 per theater, slightly less than the per-theater average of $6,100 taken in by the No. 1 film, Superbad, which grossed $18 million in 2,948 theaters in its second week. (The film, which has already taken in $189 million overseas, is now poised to cross over the $200-million worldwide mark early this week.) The fourth week of Universal's The Bourne Ultimatum placed second with $12.3 million in 3,679 theaters (the movie was also tops overseas with $14.4 million), while New Line's Rush Hour 3 finished in third place with $11.5 million in 3,442 theaters.

WAR -- IT'S NOT GOOD FOR MUCH

Lionsgate's War, starring Jet Li and Jason Statham, which many analysts had expected would be the primary contender for box-office honors, went down to ignominious defeat, taking in just $10 million in 2,277 theaters. Although the martial-arts saga was not screened for critics in the U.S., they entered the fray over the weekend and administered some devastating blows. For example, Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe wrote: "You could fill a small junkyard with the films Jet Li and Jason Statham have made separately. Perhaps to cut down on waste, they've teamed up for a single trip to the dumpster." And Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle warned that people from his fair city hoping to catch a few glimpses of it in a big movie should be aware that "San Francisco looks like Vancouver" (where most of the exterior scenes were actually shot).

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Superbad, $18 million; 2. The Bourne Ultimatum, $12.4 million; 3. Rush Hour 3, $12.3 million; 4. Mr. Bean's Holiday, $10.1 million; 5. War, $10 million; 6. The Nanny Diaries, $7.8 million; 7. The Simpsons Movie, $4.4 million; 8. Stardust, $4 million; 9. Hairspray, $3.5 million; 10. The Invasion, $3.1 million.

THUMBS CAUGHT IN AT THE MOVIES MONEY WRINGER

It turns out that when applied to movie reviews, the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" gesture, which dates back to ancient Rome, is a trademark owned by Roger Ebert and the estate of Gene Siskel. It now figures in a legal battle between Ebert, who has been sidelined from his syndicated movie-review program At the Movies by illness for more than a year, and the Walt Disney Co., which now syndicates the program. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Ebert had "exercised his right to withhold use of the 'thumbs' until a new contract is signed." Ebert quickly dispatched an email message to the wire service and other news organizations, maintaining that he "did not demand the removal of the THUMBS." (In a parenthetical note, he said that "THUMBS are [sic] capitalized to indicate a registered trademark; lowercase them [sic] if style requires.") Ebert insisted that during renewal negotiations the previous week, Disney made a first offer that "I considered offensively low. I responded with a counteroffer. They did not reply to this and on Monday ordered the THUMBS removed from the show." Disney has not indicated whether the amputation will be made permanent.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.