i>CLOVERFIELD IS A GODZILLA OF A HIT

Cloverfield turned out to be not quite the equal of 1998's Godzilla in its opening weekend, but the monster movie nevertheless became the biggest hit of the year as it took in $41 million domestically. By contrast, Godzilla earned an estimated $55.7 million, but that was during the Memorial Day holiday. Moreover, ticket sales for Godzilla quickly trailed off, and the movie wound up with a domestic gross of $136 million. Cloverfield is now expected to exceed that figure. What's more, Godzilla had a budget of $130 million; Cloverfield was made for just $25 million. Debuting in second place was 20th Century Fox's 27 Dresses, which also exceeded prediction with sales of $22.4 million. Two other newcomers did not fare as well. Mad Money took in $7.7 million. Opening in limited release, Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream performed reasonably well, given generally unfavorable reviews. The movie earned about $501,000 in 107 theaters, for an average of $4,700 per screen. Surprisingly, the film with the highest per-screen average was the French animated film Persepolis which took in $281,000 in 30 theaters, or an average of $9,400 per theater. The overall box office was up 39 percent over the same weekend a year ago with ticket sales of $135.3 million for the top 12 films.

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

1. Cloverfield, $41 million; 2. 27 Dresses, $22.4 million; 3. The Bucket List, $15.2 million; 4. Juno, $10.3 million; 5. National Treasure: Book of Secrets, $8.1 million; 6. First Sunday, $7.8 million; 7. Mad Money, $7.7 million; 8. Alvin and the Chipmunks, $7 million; 9. I Am Legend, $5.1 million; 10. Atonement, $4.8 million.

WRITERS, PRODUCERS RETURNING TO THE TABLE

Informal talks between Patric Verrone and David Young of the Writers Guild of America on the one hand and Disney CEO Robert Iger and News Corp President Peter Chernin on the other are expected to take place in Los Angeles tomorrow to determine whether full-scale negotiations between the writers and the studios can resume. No formal talks between the two sides have taken place since Dec. 7, when the studios broke off discussions, saying publicly that they would not entertain the WGA's demands to have jurisdiction over reality and animated shows and films. It was not clear whether the writers would agree to remove those issues from the negotiations -- or whether the producers would continue to insist that they do so. Many observers expect that the two sides will agree to focus on the recently negotiated contract with the Directors Guild of America as a possible "framework" for a deal with the WGA.

MURPHY RAZZED

Eddie Murphy found himself holding a whole basket of Golden Raspberry nominations for his work in the comedy Norbit. Murphy, an Oscar nominee last year for Dreamgirls, received Razzies for worst actor, worst supporting actor, worst supporting actress and worst screen couple. (In the movie, Murphy plays the nerdy title character as well as a fat woman who pursues him.) Murphy and the film's other writers were also nominated for worst screenplay, and the film itself was nominated for worst film. Other films nominated for worst film included I Know Who Killed Me, Bratz, Daddy Day Camp, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. The Razzies are handed out the day before the Oscar ceremonies.

SAMMY DAVIS JR. BIOPIC STALLED IN LEGAL WRANGLING

Plans to film a movie about the life of Sammy Davis Jr. have hit a legal roadblock in Dallas, the Dallas Morning News reported today (Monday), citing a lawsuit filed in federal court in Dallas by Davis's widow Altovise against two former business partners. Joining her in the lawsuit are Judy and Burt Boyar, who co-wrote Davis's autobiographies, Yes, I Can and Why Me? They claim thatthe former partners, California couple Barrett LaRoda and Anthony Francis, enticed Mrs. Davis to sign away rights to her husband's estate to a company they created called Sammy Davis Jr. Enterprises and that they have mismanaged the company ever since. Mrs. Davis claims that the pair demanded executive producer credits in connection with the film bio and then scuppered negotiations with the studio when the talks were near completion. In an interview with the Morning News, Dallas attorney Mike Lynn, who represents Mrs. Davis, said that she is "devastated that the defendants have decided to hold this movie hostage for their own selfish interests. Her hope is that the claims in this lawsuit can be quickly resolved, which will clear the way for the movie to go forward."

SAG WARNS MEMBERS NOT TO PIRATE SCREENERS

The Screen Actors Guild sent a warning to members Sunday that studio screeners sent to them in connection with the upcoming SAG Awards "may not be sold, transferred to a third party or used for any other purpose." If it is discovered that any of them have been so used, the guild said, members could be subject to criminal prosecution or civil liability. Moreover, it warned, "SAG will also review any alleged violation of these restrictions for possible charges of conduct unbecoming a member."

Brian B.