Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, a towering figure in contemporary British cinema, has died at the age of 54, the BBC reported today, citing his publicist, Judy Daish. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed. Minghella won an Oscar as best director for the 1996 film The English Patient. He received two screenwriter nominations, the first for The English Patient, and then, three years later, for The Talented Mr. Ripley. In addition, he served as executive producer of last year's Oscar-nominated film Michael Clayton.Minghella had just completed serving two three-year terms as chairman of the British Film Institute, stepping down early this month. In that position he had been a tireless advocate for the British film industry, telling the BBC in 2003: "We're not getting enough movies made here. Our studios aren't busy enough. We don't have enough studios." Informed of Minghella's death fellow British director David Putnam, now Lord Putnam, remarked, "This is a shattering blow from someone who was a major figure in an important industry and had a lot to go on and contribute." His death comes just days ahead of Monday's telecast in the U.K. of his two-hour film, The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, about an African woman who heads a detective agency in Botswana. He had been promoting the TV movie as recently as this week, telling one interviewer that it represented "a real labor of love, but lovely labor."


Horton Hears a Who!enjoyed a weekend opening at the box office that was as big as the elephant at the center of the tale itself. According to final figures, the G-rated movie took in just over $45 million, making it the biggest opening for any film this year. As Dr.-Seuss-stories-turned-into-movies go, Hortonbeat The Cat in the Hat but not How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Among other opening films, Never Back Down produced a so-so $8.6 million. The film was produced for only $20 million. But another action flick, Doomsday,lived up to its name with a weekend tally of $4.9 million. Meanwhile, last weekend's winner, 10,000 B.C.,headed for a fast extinction as it dropped 53 percent to $16.8 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Horton Hears a Who!, 20th Century Fox, $45,012,998, (New); 2.10,000 B.C. Warner Bros., $16,773,312, 2 Wks. ($61,577,423); 3. Never Back Down, Summit Entertainment, $8,603,195, (New); 4. College Road Trip,Disney, $7,810,400, 2 Wks. ($24,203,543); 5. Vantage Point,Sony/Columbia, $5,462,747, 4 Wks. ($59,263,128); 6. The Bank Job,Pro, New Line, $3,043,162, 3 Wks. ($29,809,714); 7. Doomsday,Universal, $4,926,565, (New); 8. Semi-Pro, New Line, $3,043,162, 3 Wks., ($29,809,714; 9. The Other Boleyn Girl, Sony/Columbia, $2,882,846, 3 Wks. ($19,153,729); 10. The Spiderwick Chronicles, Paramount, $2,335,238, 5 Wks. ($65,376,031).


Overseas, 10,000 B.C.appeared to be outdoing analysts' predictions, earning $38 million in 30 markets, according to Daily Variety. It represented the biggest opening of any film on the international marketplace this year. Horton Hears a Who!opened in 29 countries with a take of $14.2 million. (Varietynoted, however, that only four of the countries represented top-10 markets.)


Although numerous filmmakers and studio executives have been forecasting that 3-D movies will become the wave of the future, with several animation units being converted to 3-D productions exclusively, George Lucas has not joined the 3-D boosters' club. In an interview with Entertainment Weeklymagazine, Lucas said that his August 15 release of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the theatrical version of his Cartoon Network series, will not be presented in 3-D, despite numerous reports to the contrary. His reasoning? "Well, you know, it's expensive," he told the magazine, "and we felt that everybody kind of looks at the downside: It would cost twice as much to do it in 3-D as it did to do the movie in the first place. So you say, ''Well, gosh, do you think we're going to get that much more out of it?" Nevertheless, Lucas maintained that he still intends to make good on converting his original Star Warsmovies into 3-D. "It's just that technically it's a much harder thing to pull off than we thought."