HELLO, HALLOWS; GOODBYE, PHOENIX

With more than 12 million young buyers of the final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, poring over it during the weekend, ticket sales for Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix dropped 58 percent from last weekend. As a result, Universal's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James, took over the top spot at the box office. Chuck and Larry earned an estimated $34.8 million (and was the ninth Adam Sandler movie to open in first place), while Phoenix took in around $32.2 million to bring its total domestic gross to $207.5 million. By contrast, first-day book sales amounted to more than $250 million. In third place, Hairspray made about $27.8 million -- far better than box-office analysts had predicted. (USA Today called it, "the surprise of the weekend.") Also continuing to perform strongly were Paramount/DreamWorks' Transformers, which placed fourth with $20.5 million, and Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille, which placed fifth with $11 million.

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

1. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, $34.8 million; 2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, $32.2 million; 3. Hairspray, $27.8 million; 4. Transformers, $20.5 million; 5. Ratatouille, $11 million; 6. Live Free or Die Hard, $7.3 million; 7. License to Wed, $3.8 million; 8. 1408, $2.6 million; 9. Evan Almighty, $2.5 million; 10. Knocked Up, $2.3 million.

BIG SCREEN IMAX HAULING IN BIG BUCKS

Saying that he was "absolutely thrilled" by its performance, IMAX chief Brad Wexler said Friday that the giant-screen version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix took in $11.6 million in 91 domestic and 35 international IMAX theaters during its opening week, producing a record $92,000 per-screen average. Ticket sales, Wexler said, were stoked by the 18-minute 3-D finale. "This kind of immersive experience is impossible to replicate at home or in any conventional theater. And we are thrilled to have brought Harry to life in a more awe-inspiring and exciting way than ever before," he said. Wexler also noted that the company has continued to see rising sales for conventional movies converted to the IMAX format. He said so far this year 300 has taken in $24 million in IMAX theaters -- equaling the take for Spider-Man 3.

PRICE WAR INTENSIFIES: NETFLIX CUTS SUBSCRIPTION PRICES

In its latest price-war battle with Blockbuster, Netflix announced on Sunday that it is reducing the price of its two most popular subscription plans by $1.00 per month -- $16.99 for the plan allowing customers to keep up to three DVDs at a time and $8.99 for the plan allowing them to keep one. The price reduction comes as Netflix has seen its stock drop 24 percent this year and as the company has seen tougher competition not only from brick-and-mortar rivals but also from online downloading services.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE FILM CRITIC STEPS DOWN

Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Wilmington is apparently among the newspaper's writers who have accepted voluntary buyout offers. Wilmington has sent a terse email message to the Tribune's staff, saying, "This is goodbye and thanks to the people with whom I've worked for the last 14 years. I'm leaving the Tribune, and I'll relax a little before starting some writing projects I've put off for too long. I've appreciated the privilege of using the Tribune's pages to tell people about movies good and bad. I've also appreciated the vibrant Chicago film culture and audience that always made my work a pleasure. I want to thank all of you who've helped and supported me. Goodbye and here's looking at you."

SIMPSONS COME TO SPRINGFIELD

Springfield, VT got its first movie premiere Saturday night -- actually four of them -- as locals and guests walked onto a yellow carpet for the four screenings of The Simpsons Movie at the 212-seat Springfield Theater. The first, invitation-only screening was attended by Simpsons' creator Matt Groening and the film's producers. Remarking on the local hoopla, Brock Rutter of the Vermont Film Commission told the Associated Press: "I think it's quite clearly bigger than Elvis and the Beatles put together." Meanwhile, the London Times has become the first major newspaper to review the movie. James Bone, who attended a Springfield screening, said in today's edition that the film lands in movie theaters with "panache." He calls it, "a postmodern parable about an environmental scare that is at the same time hilarious and horrifyingly poignant. ... What you get for your money is the Simpsons on an epic scale."

GERMAN PROTESTANTS CONDEMN CRUISE

The German Protestant Church has added its voice to the chorus of German critics who have objected to Tom Cruise portraying a German hero in the forthcoming film Valkyrie, currently being shot in Berlin. Thomas Gandow, chief spokesman on religious cults for the church, charged Sunday that Cruise plans to turn the film into "propaganda for Scientology" and compared it with filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. "This film will have the same propaganda advantages," he said. Gandow called Scientology, of which Cruise may be its most prominent member, a "totalitarian organization" for which Cruise is its "Goebbels," referring to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi's minister of propaganda.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.