i>GHOST RIDER SETS BOX OFFICE ON FIRE

Box office analysts were marveling over the estimated $44.5 million that Sony's Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage as the Marvel comics superhero,took in over the weekend. It was the most ever earned by a movie over the first three days of the President's Day holiday and was the most earned by any film in its debut this year. The film is expected to earn an additional $7 million today (Monday). The previous three-day record for the holiday was held by 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, which took in $39.9 million in 2004.) In an interview with today's Los Angeles Times, Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer observed that the film beat the studio's projections. "This played like a summer movie," he said. "It's got it all: excitement, action, humor and special effects." The film earned an additional $15.5 million overseas, he said. Disney's fantasy film Bridge to Terabithia also turned in a solid performance with $22.1 million as it captured the family audience. Last weekend's top film, Norbit, starring Eddie Murphy, slipped to third place with about $16.8 million. The romantic comedy Music & Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, added another $14 million to the $5.5 million that it had taken in since Valentine's Day on Wednesday to place fourth, while Lionsgate's Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls took in $12.1 million, placing fifth. Together, the top 12 films earned $141.4 million, 28 percent above last year's total for the comparable weekend.

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

1. Ghost Rider, $44.5 million; 2. Bridge to Terabithia, $22.1 million; 3. Norbit, $16.8 million; 4. Music and Lyrics, $14 million; 5. Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, $12.1 million; 6. Breach, $10.4 million; 7. Hannibal Rising, $5.5 million; 8. Because I Said So, $5 million; 9. The Messengers, $3.8 million; 10. Night at the Museum, $3.7 million.

CHINESE FILM WINS BERLIN'S GOLDEN BEAR

Tuya's Marriage was the surprise winner of the top Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival Saturday. The Chinese film, about a herdswoman in Mongolia who seeks a new husband when her existing one becomes ill, had not been among the favorites mentioned earlier by most journalists and critics attending the festival. Israeli director Joseph Cedar, who was born in the U.S., won the best director award for his anti-war film Beaufort. The Silver Bear prize for best actress went to Nina Hoss for the German film Yella, about a woman who flees the depressed conditions in the former East Germany -- and her stalking ex-husband -- for the West. The Silver Bear for best actor went to Julio Chavez for the Argentinian film, The Other, about a man who takes on the identity of a dead man in order to start a new life. The Berlinale jury, headed by Paul Shrader, also awarded a trophy to Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd for outstanding artistic contribution.

OH, BOTHER, JUDGE TOSSES OUT DISNEY'S POOH SUIT

A federal judge in Los Angeles has turned back an effort by the Walt Disney Co. to terminate licensing agreements for the Winnie the Pooh characters that it has with the estate of Stephen Slesinger. Roger Zissu, an attorney representing the Slesinger estate, said in a statement, "The fact that the court has now held that there is no need even for a trial concerning either termination notice shows that Disney had no business starting this lawsuit in the first place." The ruling, the latest episode in a 16-year battle between Disney and Slesinger, apparently clears the way for the trial of Slesinger's $2-billion lawsuit against Disney for damages, trademark and copyright infringement, breach of contract, and fraudulently underpaying royalties."

NEW LINE'S SHAYE WAS NEAR DEATH, SAYS NY TIMES

New Line Cinema cofounder was felled in 2005 by a type of pneumonia similar to the type that took the life of Muppets creator Jim Henson in 1990, the New York Times disclosed today (Monday), noting that for six weeks Shaye lay in a medically-induced coma and spent months recovering. In an interview with the newspaper, Shaye said that he now intends to "act as more of an adversary or critic" in the greenlighting of movies by the studio following last year's overall poor performance of New Line releases. He also told the Times that he had denounced Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson "in a moment of emotion" during an interview with Sci-Fi wire last year but did not regret speaking his mind. He said that New Line still intends to go ahead with a film version of Rings prequel The Hobbit but that there is presently no screenplay for it. He said that he intends to release the movie in 2009.

HIGH-DEF MOVIES COMING TO PLAYSTATION

Sony movies will soon become available for downloading on its PlayStation Network, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe chief Phil Harrison has told the games website 1UP. "We have a hard drive [on the PlayStation 3], we have a commerce engine. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we will have that on the network very shortly." He added that movies, music and both standard and high-definition TV shows will all be available on the Sony network. "The ten-year plan of allowing people to download all kinds of digital content to their PlayStation 3 ... was absolutely the right thing to do," he said.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.