i>STOMP WINS BY A YARD

Surprising just about every analyst, Sony's Stomp the Yard emerged as the No. 1 film over the weekend, earning an estimated $22 million, despite no major stars, a budget of only $14 million, and mixed reviews. Stomp stomped out the three-week reign of Night at the Museum at the top of the box office, which dropped to No. 2 with $17.1 million. Its four-week total now stands at $185.8 million. Sony's The Pursuit of Happyness slipped to third place with $9.1 million. Although it doubled the number of theaters showing it, DreamWorks' Dreamgirls placed fourth with $8.1 million, about $500,000 less than it took in last week. Analysts had voiced little hope for other new films that opened over the weekend -- and results proved them on the mark. Universal's Alpha Dog and Disney's Primeval each grossed about $6 million, while Arthur and the Invisibles discovered virtually invisible ticket sales at some theaters as it opened with just $4.3 million.

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

1. Stomp the Yard, $22 million; 2. Night at the Museum, $17.1 million; 3. The Pursuit of Happyness, $9.1 million; 4. Dreamgirls, $8.1 million; 5. Freedom Writers, $7.1 million; 6. Children of Men, $6.4 million; 7. Alpha Dog, $6.1 million; 8. Primeval, $6 million; 9. Arthur and the Invisibles, $4.3 million; 10. The Good Shepherd, $3.9 million.

DISNEY REWARDS IGER FOR STRONG YEAR

The Walt Disney Co. has rewarded CEO Robert Iger for leading a company resurgence over the past year by making him one of the highest-paid CEOs in the U.S. According to SEC filings, Iger received a $15-million cash bonus in addition to his $2-million salary as well as long-term incentive pay of $4.3 million and stock options valued at $2.9 million. He also exercised $7.96 million of expiring options over the period as the company's stock rose 43 percent on his watch.

TOP CRITICS CHOICE AWARDS GO TO THE DEPARTED

In the run-up to the Golden Globe Awards, which air tonight (Monday) from Beverly Hills, the Broadcast Film Critics Association on Friday selected Martin Scorsese's The Departed to receive its best picture Critics Choice award. Scorsese won the best director award, while Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren won the top actor awards for their performances in The Last King of Scotland and The Queen, respectively. Little Miss Sunshine won for best acting ensemble. Meanwhile, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu's Babel has emerged as the favorite to pick up the best picture award at tonight's Golden Globes ceremony. It is competing against The Departed, The Queen, Bobby, and Little Children. The top award is due to be presented by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is still hobbling on crutches following his recent skiing accident.

BRITISH FILM INDUSTRY MAKES COME-BACK

The hard-hit British film industry came roaring back to life in 2006 as spending on film production rose 48 percent to $1.64 billion, largely due to Hollywood-backed movies like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum, and The Golden Compass. Hollywood films accounted for 60 percent of the total, or $984 million. However, spending on domestic film productions dropped 11 percent to $290 million, according to the British Film Council. John Woodward, chief executive officer of the Film Council, said in a statement: "We are back in business with British film-makers winning international awards, a crop of great British films produced and British talent and facilities in demand from filmmakers around the world. The new tax credit which came into force this year will ensure that the U.K. stays one of the best places in the world to produce a film."

CAMERON TAKES WRAPS OFF AVATAR

James Cameron has acknowledged that he has been working secretly with some 100 people full time for more than a year on Avatar, which will be his first feature since Titanic, filmed some 10 years ago. "They believe in this thing," Cameron told Newsweek. "And they were told in no uncertain terms to keep their mouths shut." The film is scheduled for release in summer 2009, but Cameron told the magazine, "I've wanted to make this movie from the time I wrote the treatment 11 years ago. I was just biding my time for when it was going to be technically possible. I'm so invested in the 3-D, and I love the challenge of creating an alien culture. We're creating a world from scratch, so it's really fun." Cameron denied that he had spent a decade away from filmmaking in order to avoid trying to top his success with Titanic. "I think people have interpreted it as, '[success] generates artistic paralysis.' But for me it was like, 'OK, I don't have anything more to prove, other than to myself, and I've got more money than I ever thought I would have. Let me go have some fun, you know?'"

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.