FOREIGN BOX OFFICE BOOMING

While the summer box office is up just 5 percent domestically over last year -- with much of that increase attributable to higher ticket prices at 3D and IMAX screens -- the international box office remains on a tear, Daily Variety indicated today (Thursday). The trade publication noted that Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs dawned with an opening weekend gross of $151.7 million and is closing in on $200 million in its first week. By the end of last weekend, Paramount/DreamWorks's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had earned $302 million overseas. But even some films that were considered disappointments during their domestic runs often performed well at the foreign box office, Variety observed, including the Tom Cruise starrer Valkyrie, which grossed $90 million overseas, and the epic Australia, which earned $158.3 million abroad.

ANALYST WHO WAS DOWN ON UP IS NOW UP ON UP

Pali Research media analyst Richard Greenfield has admitted that he was "dead wrong" in his assessment of Disney/Pixar's Up, which he predicted would fail to become a big hit for the studio. In particular Greenfield had claimed that the film's hero, a cranky 78-year-old voiced by Ed Asner, was not the sort of character that would attract Disney's core audience, young boys, and would be nearly impossible to merchandise. (At the time, Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook responded, "I think we've all learned that a great story, no matter what it is, told well and with great characters is going to find a big audience. ... Time and again people tend to stereotype movies; they'll say 'pirates never work,' or 'older protagonists' never work, and each time, the marketplace tells you differently." In a research note sent to clients on Wedn)esday, Greenfield said, "The recent success of Pixar's Up (well ahead of our forecasts) has renewed investor confidence in Disney's creative capabilities." After six weeks, the movie has earned more than $265 million, making it Disney's second-highest grossing film ever domestically, after Finding Nemo. Today's (Thursday) New York Times observed that other analysts have been praising Disney "for allowing its Pixar unit to pursue Up despite the film's obvious commercial risk."

SUPERMAN HEIRS LOSE BATTLE WITH TIME WARNER UNITS

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Warner Bros. and DC Comics -- both units of Time Warner -- did not engage in a sweetheart deal when the studio paid the comic-book company $13.6 million for rights to produce Superman ReturJns in 2006. Heirs to the estate of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel had accused the two sibling companies of making numerous sweetheart deals, including one for the TV series Smallville in 2000. However, U.S. Judge District Court Judge Stephen G. Larson ruled that there was "insufficient evidence that the Superman film agreement between DC Comics and Warner Bros., whether judged by its direct economic terms or its indirect ones, was consummated at below its fair market value."

U.K. NEWSPAPER SAYS MURDOCH TABLOIDS PAID HUSH MONEY

Two British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp paid out more than $1.6 million to quietly settle legal cases that might have revealed that the newspapers had hired private investigators to wiretap British politicians, actors, and sports stars, Britain's Guardian newspaper disclosed today (Thursday), citing an unnamed source at Scotland Yard. The newspaper said that the investigators, hired by journalists working for the two Murdoch tabloids, the daily Sun and the Sunday News of the World, had been able to gain access to personal data concerning the celebrities, including their tax records and bank statements. The Guardian accused Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor and currently the official spokesman for David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, of failing to take action to halt the wiretapping (referred to in the Guardian account as "phone-hacking"). On Wednesday night, former deputy prime minister John Prescott told the Guardian, "I think Mr. Cameron should be thinking of getting rid of Coulson." Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, which is also owned by Murdoch, called the Guardian expose "one of the most significant media stories of modern times," adding it suggested that the illegal activity was "systemic" particularly at News of the World. "This was a newsroom out of control," he said. But, in an interview with Bloomberg News, Rupert Murdoch denied that any hush money had been paid to the alleged victims to settle their cases. "If that had happened, I would know about it," he said.

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