i>TRANSFORMERS TRANSFORMS RECORD BOOKS

Although analysts had expected that it would perform strongly, Paramount/DreamWorks' Transformers surpassed even the most sanguine predictions, taking in an estimated $67.6 million over the weekend and $152.5 million since it opened with a single, "preview" screening last Monday. The seven-day total represented a record for a nonsequel, surpassing the original Spider-Man, which earned $151.6 million in 2002. (Spider-Man registered more admissions, however -- 26.1 million versus 22.5 million for Transformers.) Overseas, the film's take was equally impressive as it earned $246.1 million in 29 countries. In second place, Disney-Pixar's Ratatouille also packed 'em in, earning $29 million in its second weekend to bring its total to $109.5 million. Fox's Live Free or Die Hard also remained very much alive as it placed third with about $17.4 million, raising its total to $84.1 million. Also racking up healthy ticket sales, The Weinstein Co.'s Sicko earned $3.6 million on just 702 screens, bringing its total to $11.5 million. Noting that the film declined only 18 percent from the previous week, Harvey Weinstein told USA Today, "We said we were going to do steady as she goes, and I think we are going to get there, with room to spare."

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

1. Transformers, $67.6 million; 2. Ratatouille, $29 million; 3. Live Free or Die Hard, $17.4 million; 4. License to Wed, $10.4 million; 5. Evan Almighty, $8.1 million; 6. 1408, $7.1 million; 7. Knocked Up, $5.2 million; 8. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, $4.15 million; 9. Sicko, $3.65 million; 10. Ocean's Thirteen, $3.5 million.

DISNEY'S FIRST CHINESE FILM A MODEST HIT

The Secret of the Magic Gourd, Disney's first film produced for the Chinese box office, has earned $1 million in its first week, which Disney said it regarded as respectable given the current size of the Chinese film market. A Disney spokesperson said that the film, made at Centro Digital Pictures in Hong Kong, would help give Disney "a nice position at the Chinese box office." The company's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End earned more than ten times as much -- $10.5 million -- in its first week in China.

ROWLING ON 8TH POTTER BOOK: "NEVER SAY NEVER"

Author J.K. Rowling has apparently left the door ajar for an eighth Harry Potter novel. Asked during a BBC interview Friday night about the possibility of reviving the series in the future, Rowling reiterated that her seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to be published on July 21, will be the last, but she added that her motto has always been "never say never." A spokesman for Rowling said Sunday: "It's not saying that she definitely is [going to write another Potter book], and it's not saying that she definitely isn't. I cannot comment further." Meanwhile, the British bookstore chain Waterstone's launched an online petition Sunday that begins with the words, "We, the undersigned, petition J. K. Rowling to write more new adventures for Harry Potter and his friends no matter what happens at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." And what if Rowling kills off Harry in the final book? Well, the bookstore observed, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in 1893 in The Adventure of the Final Problem but brought him back to life after a public outcry.

LUCAS AND SPIELBERG'S CLOSE ENCOUNTER

When George Lucas visited Steven Spielberg on the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1976, he was so impressed by the movie's huge sets and Spielberg's vision for it that he bet Spielberg that the film would become a bigger hit than his own space movie that he was just completing at the time. In a documentary film, Spielberg on Spielberg, which airs tonight (Monday) on Turner Classic Movies channel, Spielberg relates that he took the bet by exchanging 2.5 profit points on Close Encounters for 2.5 profits points on Lucas's film -- titled Star Wars.Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.