CHRISTMASES STAYS IN SEASON

Forget white Christmases. New Line/Warner Bros.' Four Christmases was green over the weekend, remaining in first place for the second week in a row after dropping only 41 percent from last week. With and estimated $18.2 million in ticket sales, the comedy has now earned $70.8 million since it opened over the Thanksgiving holiday. Summit Entertainment's Twilight also held up nicely, finishing in second place with about $13.2 million. But Disney's Bolt, which had been expected to capture family audiences and challenge the leaders, turned tail, and settled for $9.7 million after dropping 64 percent. Baz Luhrmann's epic Australia didn't fare much better, dropping 53 percent to $7.9 million. The film, which reportedly cost $130 million to make, has thus far taken in only $30.9 million. The only new film to open wide over the weekend, Punisher: War Zone, tanked with just $4 million to land in eighth place, just ahead of Cadillac Records, which took in $3.5 million at only 686 theaters. Once again, the movies doing the biggest business were ones showing Oscar contenders in limited release. Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon averaged a whopping $60,049 in each of the three theaters where it played. Slumdog Millionaire, which won the best-film award from the National Board of Review last week, averaged $18,031 from each of 78 theaters, while Milk, starring Sean Penn averaged $17,076 at 99 theaters. By contrast, Four Christmases averaged $5,451 at each of 3,335 theaters. Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $77.5 million, up 6 percent from the same weekend a year ago.

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

1. Four Christmases, $18.2 million; 2. Twilight, $13.2 million; 3. Bolt, $9.7 million; 4. Australia, $7 million; 5. Quantum of Solace, $6.6 million; 6. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, $5.1 million; 7. Transporter 3, $4.5 million; 8. Punisher: War Zone, $4 million; 9. Cadillac Records, $3.5 million; 10. Role Models, $2.6 million.

MADAGASCAR TOPS OVERSEAS

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa roared onto overseas' screens over the weekend with $50.2 million in ticket sales, averaging nearly $10,000 per screen in 5,129 theaters in 35 countries. Reporting on the results, Daily Variety observed that the Paramount/DreamWorks Animation feature earned more than the combined total of the next four films on the international box-office list, Quantum of Solace, Twilight, Bolt and WALL-E. The film, which opened internationally five weeks ago and has been slowly expanded since, has now earned an impressive $125 million abroad. "With school holidays set to start in many markets, Madagascar 2 is set for a very strong run this holiday season," Andrew Cripps, president of Paramount Pictures Intl., told Variety.

SUN SETS FOR TWILIGHT DIRECTOR

Despite receiving credit for the biggest opening weekend ever by a female director, Catherine Hardwicke has parted company with Summit Entertainment and the Twilight franchise. Confirming a story by Nikki Finke on her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog, Hardwicke said in a statement, "I am sorry that due to timing I will not have the opportunity to direct [the Twilight sequel] New Moon. ... I wish everyone at Summit the best with the sequel -- it is a great story." Summit Entertainment Co-Chairman/CEO Rob Friedman told Finke: "Catherine and Summit have agreed to part ways on the sequel because our visions are different." Finke, however, suggested that a personality conflict may have been at the root of the problem, quoting a source as saying that Hardwicke "was 'difficult' and 'irrational' during the making of Twilight."

AUSTRALIAN COURT RULES SIMPSONS CARTOON "CHILD PORNOGRAPHY"

In what today's (Monday) Sydney Morning Herald described as a "landmark finding," an Australian Supreme Court judge has ruled that a cartoon in which child characters looking like Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson engage in sex acts, amounts to child pornography. A lower-court justice had fined Alan John McEwan A$3,000, a verdict that McEwan immediately appealed, maintaining that cartoon characters "plainly and deliberately" depart from the human form. However Justice Michael Adams ruled that although the cartoons did not realistically represent human beings, they could "fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children."

MADONNA SUES BRITISH TABLOID, WINS

Madonna has won a lawsuit against the publishers of the British tabloid The Mail on Sunday, whom she had accused of publishing stolen pictures of her May 2000 wedding to director Guy Ritchie. The pictures appeared last October as the entertainer and Ritchie were negotiating a divorce settlement. Madonna had claimed in the lawsuit that the photos were copied in her home by interior designer Robert Joseph Wilber and sold to the Mail on Sunday for $7,500. A British judge said he would rule on compensation to Madonna after the first of the year.