COWABUNGA!

Warner Bros. could shout "cowabunga!" following the victory of TMNT, the latest film incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at the box-office over the weekend. The film took in an estimated $25.5 million, but analysts noted that the studio had conservatively forecast Sunday's potential take and that the figure could go higher. The computer-animated film topped five other new releases, all of which landed in the top ten. Warner Bros. could also cheer over another strong finish for 300, which dropped to second place with ticket sales of $20.5 million, bringing its gross after three weeks to $162.4 million. (It had reportedly cost about $60 million to make.) Debuting in third place with $14.5 million was Paramount's Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg. Despite the flood of new films, most had decent openings, with the exception of the inspirational sports (swimming) movie Pride, which failed to make much of a splash with just $4 million in ticket sales. According to box-office trackers Media by Numbers, the top 12 films took in $125.7 million, 29 percent above the figure for the comparable weekend a year ago.

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

1. TMNT, $25.45 million; 2. 300, $20.5 million; 3. Shooter, $14.5 million; 4. Wild Hogs, $14.4 million; 5. The Last Mimzy, $10.2 million; 6. Premonition, $10.1 million; 7. The Hills Have Eyes 2, $10 million; 8. Reign Over Me, $8 million; 9. Pride, $4 million; 10. Dead Silence, $3.5 million.

"CRITIC-PROOF" MOVIES AMONG NEWCOMERS

Both TMNT and The Hills Have Eyes 2 were regarded by their respective studios as critic proof. And they were apparently right. Kyle Smith concluded his review of TMNT in the New York Post on Friday by remarking, "The movie pretty much exists to sell tie-in products, and it's about as entertaining as watching little kids playing with their toys in the sandbox." The reviews for Hills came on Saturday, since the studio did not screen it for critics. Newsday critic Gene Seymour, who did double-duty for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that it represents the "bankruptcy of imagination" of "gore hounds."

GRAZERGATE WIDENS AT L.A. TIMES

The tempest at the Los Angeles Times over the decision to cancel a special opinion section edited by producer Brian Grazer after it was disclosed that the editor of the section had a romantic relationship with a publicist for Grazer grew louder over the weekend. L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke, who broke the Grazergate story, reported over the weekend that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been selected as the next special editor of the "Current" section by Times publisher David Hiller, who, she said, is a close friend of Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was also a member of the Tribune Co. board. "Here's an even more clear impression of favoritism than Grazergate," Finke wrote. Meanwhile, Allison Silver, who edited the Times Sunday opinion section in the 1990s, said in an article posted on the liberal Huffington Post website, "The decision to go outside journalism suggests indifference to editing as a critical profession. It goes without saying that you wouldn't turn your Sunset Strip restaurant over to your mom for the night no matter how good a cook she is, or take the Jet Propulsion Lab away from CalTech and give it to Cal Arts to run, just to shake things up."

INDIE MOVIE IS AUCTIONED ON EBAY

Forget Sundance. Forget Cannes. The writer-director-producer of the action-comedy Lady Magdalene's, starring Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, is auctioning the movie on eBay (item #230108636678). Neil Schulman has set $1 million ($999,999 plus $1 for shipping) as the opening bid. Interested buyers can obtain a complimentary DVD screener. In his description of the item, Schulman writes, "If you're not entirely satisfied that this film will have an opening weekend of $30 million or more in domestic U.S. box office receipts, your money will cheerfully be refunded!"

Brian B.