FEWER WATCHMEN WATCHERS THAN EXPECTED

Watchmen opened this weekend with the biggest take of any film this year. Its estimated $55.5 million domestic tally also represented one of the best showings ever for an R-rated film. Nevertheless, the total turned out to be far lower than analysts had forecast -- with many of them having predicted that it would exceed the $70.9 million that director Zack Snyder's previous film, 300, had grossed over the same weekend two years ago. Although Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman insisted that "our expectations were met," one website, BusinessInsider.com, headlined: "Watchman Flops!" While its gross was "nothing to sneeze at for a normal film," the website said, "given the expectations for this one and how much money it has to make to break even [the film reportedly cost $200 million to produce], this isn't great." An even bigger disappointment was the performance of Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, which opened unimpressively last weekend, then dropped a whopping 78 percent this weekend to place ninth with just $2.8 million. However, Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail continued to hold up in its third week, placing second with $8.8 million. Third place was taken by Taken, which grossed $7.45 million in its sixth week, coming in just ahead of Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire with $6.93 million. Overall, the box office remained on the hot streak that began at the beginning of the year. Total ticket sales were about $115 million, up 7.5 percent over the $107 million gross a year ago. Although the movie played on 3,611 screens -- the most ever for an R-rated film -- 10 percent of the gross came from just 124 IMAX theaters, 3.4 percent of the total.

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

1. Watchmen, $55.7 million; 2. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, $8.8 million; 3. Taken, $7.5 million; 4. Slumdog Millionaire, $6.9 million; 5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, $4.1 million; 6. He's Just Not That Into You, $4 million; 7. Coraline, $3.3 million; 8. Confessions of a Shopaholic, $3.1 million; 9. Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, $2.8 million; 10. Fired Up, $2.6 million.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES TALKS ABOUT A LABOR DEAL?

Current negotiations over a new commercials contract are allowing the Screen Actors Guild to engage in "back-channel efforts" to find a compromise with the studios and TV networks over a TV/theatrical contract as well, Daily Variety reported today (Monday). The trade publication cited a recent message from the Unite for Strength faction, which now controls SAG's board, which said, "Our negotiators continue to explore options to move the TV/theatrical contract toward resolution." SAG and AFTRA are currently engaged in joint negotiations on the commercials contract talks. And while SAG balked at the AMPTP's insistence that any new contract end three years from the day it is signed, the AMPTP did agree to earlier renewal negotiations with SAG on condition that the two unions once again agree to joint bargaining talks.

ICAHN COULD TAKE OVER LIONSGATE

Corporate raider Carl Icahn may now have his sights set on a takeover of Lionsgate, Daily Variety indicated today (Monday), allying himself with Mark Rachesky, whose MHR Fund Management owns a 19.4-percent stake in the Canadian-based studio; Icahn owns 14.5 percent. According to the trade paper, the two men are seeking to add directors to the company board by expanding it and removing some members. Their actions come after Lionsgate experienced a string of loss-making films at the box office until striking gold with the current hit Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail.

MPAA FIGHTS ILLINOIS BAN ON CRIMINAL WRITINGS

The Motion Picture Association of America is at the forefront of First Amendment groups opposing a proposed Illinois law that would bar elected officials convicted of violating their oath of office from receiving payment for "any media depiction or detailing of the crime for which the person was convicted." The bill, which came in the wake of a report that former Illinois Governor Blagojevich had received a six-figure contract for a book, was denounced by the MPAA as a "chilling" abridgement of constitutionally protected speech. It could, it said, "interfere with the routine business contracting process between writers, producers, directors and individuals who happen to be criminal defendants by affecting the means of directly compensating those individuals for their knowledge to tell a story involving a criminal case." And David Horowitz of the Media Coalition told Publishers Weekly that the bill "would potentially inhibit books, movies, magazines and all manner of media in trying to tell a story that has real news or public interest value."