WILL BORAT'S GLORY EXTEND THROUGH WEEK 2?

Twentieth Century Fox film executives are insisting that they were justified in reducing the number of theaters showing Borat to 837 prior to last weekend's opening. The film took in $26.5 million, an unprecedented figure for a film opening in so few theaters. Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder claims that the decision to cut the number of theaters by nearly two thirds will work in favor of the movie next weekend because its initial success will increase awareness of it. Daily Variety reported today (Tuesday) that even now, only 57 percent of people surveyed at theaters are aware of the film versus 90 percent for Santa Clause 3. However, other industry observers contend that the box-office results for Borat over the weekend exposed the shortcomings of tracking surveys and the risk of relying too heavily on them. Fox is planning to expand Borat to about 2,400 theaters next weekend. Meanwhile, Santa Clause 3 turned out to be something of a disappointment. Earning $19.5 million on 3,458 screens, it was off 32.8 percent from the $29-million debut of 2002's Clause 2, which eventually earned $139 million. However, it was duly noted that this time around, the Disney film faced competition for the family audience from Aardman/DreamWorks Animation's Flushed Away, which exceeded analysts' expectations by opening in third place with $18.9 million.

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

1. Borat, 20th Century Fox, $26,455,463, (New); 2. Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Disney, $19,504,038, (New); 3. Flushed Away, Paramount, $18,814,323, (New);4. Saw III, Lionsgate, $14,805,871, 2 Wks. ($59,382,706); 5. The Departed, Warner Bros., $7,722,388, 5 Wks. ($102,004,054); 6. The Prestige, Disney, $7,505,268, 3 Wks. ($39,135,541); 7. Flags of Our Fathers, Paramount, $4,419,657, 3 Wks. ($26,550,769); 8. Man of the Year, Universal, $3,665,580, 4 Wks. ($33,848,800); 9. Open Season, Sony, $2,968,832, 6 Wks. ($81,254,598); 10. The Queen, Miramax, $2,909,966, 6 Wks. ($9,986,970).

XBOX 360 TO OFFER MOVIES -- FOR RENT

Directly challenging Apple's iTunes Music Store and its iPod Video players, Microsoft announced today (Tuesday) that it will begin offering movies and TV shows for its Xbox 360 video game players beginning Nov. 22. While the TV shows can be permanently retained, the movies will only be available to "rent." They can be played from the game consoles directly onto the screens of television sets in the home. (An accessory capable of recording and playing HDTV movies is expected to become available later in the year.) Apple has said that it will introduce a device next year that will also allow films being sold on its iTunes store to be played directly on TV sets via personal computers. Warner Bros. and Paramount have agreed to provide movies for the Xbox Live Internet service; Disney is providing movies for the Apple service. Sony has already indicated that it will not provide films for the Xbox system since it competes with its own PlayStation game consoles. Microsoft did not announce pricing for the movie downloads, but today's Los Angeles Times, citing people familiar with the service, said that new movies would rent for $3.99 and older ones for $2.99. Apple charges $14.99 per movie for downloading-to-own but does not offer rentals. It said on Monday that Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest will be available for download on Nov. 7, and Disney's Cars on Dec. 5 -- the same dates that they will arrive in the stores on DVD.

NY TIMES SNIPES AT VARIETY REPORT

Daily Variety reporter Patrick Frater has acknowledged that he failed to fully check out a story in which he claimed that Wesley Snipes had reached a deal with U.S. authorities to pay $13 million allegedly owed in back taxes on an installment plan. Frater told today's New York Times that although he spoke to three associates of Snipes, he did not speak to prosecutors. The trade publication was embarrassed today (Tuesday) when a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Paul Perez said that no deal had been made to drop tax fraud and conspiracy charges against Snipes, who currently is filming a movie in Namibia. Frater told the Times that any blame for inaccuracy for the article -- which was cited in numerous accounts all over the world -- should rest on Variety editors "who put it through." The Times said that it had been unable to reach Variety editors for comment. It is highly unusual for one news outlet to point up so directly apparent deficiencies in the editorial oversight of another.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.