LIBERTY MEDIA TO LAUNCH NEW HOLLYWOOD STUDIO

Liberty Media chief John Malone has decided to invest $500 million in a new motion picture studio to be called Overture Films and headed by former MGM COO Chris McGurk and former United Artists President Danny Rosett, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper quoted S. Mark Young, an entertainment professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, as saying: "A major company like Liberty backing a successful executive like Chris McGurk bodes well for success." The Times also pointed out that Overture will have the advantage over other studio startups in having the Starz pay-TV channel, the Vongo broadband channel and video distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment -- all owned by Starz -- at its disposal. "This was an opportunity to build something from the ground up and really try to do it the right way," McGurk said.

BORAT MAKE SECOND BENEFIT

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan had another sensational weekend at the box office as 20th Century Fox tripled the number of theaters showing it. Borat wound up with an estimated $29 million, bringing its ten-day total to $67.8 million. Thanks to the Veterans Day holiday, the box office showed strong ticket sales for two other holdovers as well. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause dropped only 13 percent to around $16.9 million, while the animated Flushed Away remained close behind, declining 11 percent to $16.7 million. On the other hand, three newcomers failed to live up to analysts' predictions. The Russell Crowe starrer A Good Year tanked with just $3.7 million, while the critically praised Stranger than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell, earned an estimated $14.1 million. The horror flick, The Return, which was not screened for critics, earned a dismal $4.8 million. Expanding after two weeks, Babel wound up in sixth place with $5.65 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, $29 million; 2. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, $16.9 million; 3. Flushed Away, $16.7 million; 4. Stranger Than Fiction, $14.1 million; 5. Saw III, $6.6 million; 6. Babel, $5.65 million; 7. The Departed, $5.2 million; 8. The Return, $4.8 million; 9. The Prestige, $4.6 million; 10. A Good Year, $3.8 million.

UNAUTHORIZED SPIDEY TRAILER HITS THE WEB

Following complaints from fans that the new Spider-Man 3 trailer -- officially released last week on the Internet, on TV, and in movie theaters -- lacked any look at the film's villain, an earlier but incomplete trailer, complete with scenes of bad guy Venom, quickly turned up on YouTube. The blog Popoholic published a still from the movie showing Venom and warned that Sony would probably move quickly to have the trailer removed from YouTube. Nevertheless, it said, "Now this is the Spider-Man 3 trailer the studio should have released." Meanwhile, Marvel Entertainment, largely on the basis of positive buzz for Spider-Man 3, due to be released in May, and Fox's Fantastic Four 2, scheduled for July, has raised its net sales projection in 2007 to $375 million to $435 million versus expected sales of $338 million for 2006. Since July Marvel stock has soared higher than any of its superheroes, rising 42 percent to $27.56.

TRAFFIC JAM FOR CARS

Five million DVD copies of Disney/Pixar's animated Cars were grabbed up by consumers in the first two days it was available for sale last week, the studio said Friday. The company also made the film available for downloading from Apple's iTunes Music Store. It did not immediately indicate the volume of online sales. But in an interview with Bloomberg News on Friday, Disney CEO Robert Iger acknowledged that "in terms of the sheer bottom-line impact" online sales of all products, including films and TV shows, remain "relatively small." However, he added, "over the next three to five years, we'll be able to monetize at a significant level."

MOVIE BAD GUY PALANCE DEAD AT 87

Movie villain Jack Palance, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1992 for City Slickers, then dropped to the stage and performed one-armed push-ups at age 73 after receiving it, died Friday in Montecito, CA of natural causes. His menacing presence terrified audiences in dozens of films, including Sudden Fear, Shane, Kiss of Fire, and The Big Knife. He debuted in films in 1950 and made his last appearance in the 2004 TV movie, Back When We Were Grownups, as a 100-year-old man.

Brian B.