WAS THE RACE(R) FIXED?

Warner Bros. on Monday was being accused of cooking the books Monday after it turned out that their box-office estimate for the opening weekend of Speed Racer was way off the mark. The studio had predicted that the film would wind up with $20.2 million in ticket sales, putting it in second place. "It's far from the first time a studio with an underperforming pic has overestimated its Sunday gross and avoided an embarrassing third-place finish in Monday morning box office stories," Daily Variety commented today (Tuesday). The estimated figure, not the final one, is the one that receives the most play in the press -- if for no other reason than that Sunday is ordinarily a light news day. Few analysts had believed the studio's estimate, given the movie's weak showing on Friday and Saturday. (Weekend estimates include actual figures for Friday and Saturday and estimated sales for Sunday.) As things turned out, the movie debuted with just $18.6 million -- a figure that will no doubt cause heads eventually to fall at the studio, which reportedly spent $250-300 million to produce and market it. Taking over second place was the debuting romantic comedy What Happens in Vegas from 20th Century Fox, which wound up with $20.2 million, the same amount that had been forecast for Speed Racer. Meanwhile, the second weekend of Iron Man earned $51.2 million, more than the debuts of Vegas and Racer put together, keeping it in first place.

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. Iron Man, Paramount, $51,190,629, 2 Wks. ($177,825,024); 2. What Happens in Vegas, Fox, $20,172,474, (New); 3. Speed Racer, Warner Bros., $18,561,337, (New); 4. Made of Honor, Sony, $8,116,323, 2 Wks. ($26,791,494); 5. Baby Mama, Universal, $6,225,790, 3 Wks. ($40,836,370); 6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Universal, $3,837,240, 4 Wks. ($50,781,745); 7. Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay, Warner Bros., $3,106,424, 3 Wks. ($30,667,308); 8 . The Forbidden Kingdom, Lionsgate, $2,169,323, 4 Wks. ($48,530,104); 9. Nim's Island, Fox, $1,463,622, 6 Wks. ($44,395,857); 10. Prom Night, Sony, $1,012,986, 5 Wks. ($42,785,107).

SEX AND THE CITY MOVIE PREMIERES IN LONDON

Sex and the City had its world premiere in London Monday night, and the reaction of the audience may have been a lot more enthusiastic than those of the critics. Will Pavia of the Times acknowledged as much. After outlining numerous complaints about the film ("It can feel like a never-ending dinner party: however pleasant the courses, after a while you can hardly eat another one") Pavia remarked, "None of these problems seemed apparent to the women who sat around me ... laughing and weeping in quick succession. After a while I began to reason like one of the characters: maybe the problem was me." The Sun observed, "There were oohs and aahs, cheers, laughter -- and more than a few tissues dabbed on eyes. Sex and the City will give its legion of female fans what they want." And Celia Walden in the Daily Telegraph concluded: "One thing's for sure: fans of the series will lap this film up. It was coarse, sentimental, and outrageously materialistic -- just as we hoped and expected it would be."

TRANSITION COSTLY FOR IMAX

IMAX's decision to move from film to digital projection systems in its giant-screen theaters is hitting its bottom line hard. In its SEC filing on Monday, the Canadian-based company reported a net loss of $10.3 million during its first quarter, versus a loss of $4.7 million during the same period a year earlier. Nevertheless, co-CEO Richard Gelfond said that the company is on track to open 20 new digital theaters in the third quarter and another 30 by the end of the year. He also indicated that the company has a strong slate of movies that have been converted to the IMAX format and are set to debut this year, including Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Kung Fu Panda, The Dark Night, and the latest Harry Potter sequel.

Brian B.