MOUNTAIN HIGH; BOX OFFICE LOW

For once, the box-office prognosticators were right. After often defying predictions by showing a steep rise in revenue and attendance every week this year, ticket sales fell sharply over the weekend, with last week's winner, Watchmen, dropping a whopping 67 percent to $18 million, according to studio estimates. Replacing it at the top was the Disney family film Race to Witch Mountain with about $25 million, a figure that was at the high end of forecasts. The collapse of Watchmen, which reportedly cost $150-200 million to make, had been predicted by several analysts, who said that by attempting to remain faithful to the original graphic novel on which the movie was based, the filmmakers had mounted a dark, dense and overlong work that would satisfy few beyond the most ardent fans of the book. Warner Bros. remained hopeful, however. In an interview with the New York Times, Dan Fellman, the studio's distribution chief, said, "There's been a history of movies that take a big hit in the second weekend and then settle in and do just fine." But analysts pointed out that there has been little history of superhero movies experiencing such a sharp drop-off in their second week. Only two, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Hulk, experienced steeper falls. Meanwhile, Universal's horror revival, The Last House on the Left, performed decently over the weekend, opening in third place with $14.7 million. But the Fox Atomic comedy Miss March, came in like a lamb with just $2.4 million, barely making it into the top ten. And the floor fell out from under Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience which dropped another 68 percent in its third weekend to just $906,000. Overall, the box office total fell 16 percent from the comparable week a year ago, when Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who opened with $45 million. It remains to be seen how the result will affect shares of the major movie exhibitors that many investors had begun to regard as recession-proof. (Shares in Regal Entertainment, the country's largest exhibitor, were up 20 percent last week.)

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

1. Race to Witch Mountain, $25 million; 2. Watchmen, $18.1 million; 3. The Last House on the Left, $14.7 million; 4. Taken, $6.7 million; 5. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, $5.1 million; 6. Slumdog Millionaire, $5 million; 7. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, $3.1 million; 8. He's Just Not That Into You, $2.9 million; 9. Coraline, $3.3 million; 10. Miss March, $2.4 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT AND MISS MARCH

Both Last House on the Left and Miss March received atrocious reviews from critics. Claudia Puig in USA Today advised: "Steer as clear as you possibly can from The Last House on the Left." She is presumably referring to a graphic scene of brutality in the film that other critics, while agreeing that it is well staged, have damned. Kyle Smith in the New York Post called it "depraved and dreadful." Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News described it as "stomach-churningly anti-human." And Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times concluded that it is: "a tawdry, pointless whirligig that wants to spin amusement from genuine pain and misery without forcing its audience into an uncomfortable position of questioning themselves and their own enjoyment of it." As for the comedy Miss March, Rachel Saltz in the New York Times wrote that its biggest problem "is that it isn't funny." Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Times added, that it not only is it unfunny, but "it's monumentally stupid."

STEVE MARTIN RESPONDS TO BANNING OF HIS PLAY

After learning that his critically acclaimed play Picasso at the Lapin Agile had been banned at a high school in La Grande, OR, Steve Martin has written to the local newspaper offering to pay for the production of his play off-campus. In a letter to the editor of the La Grande Observer that appeared Friday, Martin wrote that his play, which imagines a meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, was intended to explain "the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science." Although the play has been performed without incident at other high schools, 137 La Grande parents signed a petition, circulated by one of them, objecting to its content, leading the local school board to ban it. Martin said that he wanted to prevent the play "from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve." It won the 1996 New York Outer Critics' Circle Awards for best play and best playwright.

HARRY POTTER STUNT DOUBLE TOLD HE'S A QUADRIPLEGIC

David Holmes, a 25-year-old stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter movies, has been told that he'll likely remain a quadriplegic for the rest of his life following a accident on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Leavesden Studios in England last month, the Sunday Mirror reported. A friend told the newspaper, "Doctors have told him he only has a five per cent chance of recovering movement in his arms and legs. He's devastated but if there is a chance of him walking again I'm sure he will."