i>M:I3 SOARS IN DVD SALES

While Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III failed to reach the box-office heights of its predecessors -- a major factor in Viacom's decision to part company with the actor's production company -- the DVD version of the movie is outdoing the two previous releases in both sales and rentals in its first week, according to Home Media Retailing magazine. The trade publication said that first week sales hit 3.7 million units, not including an additional 20,000 units sold in HD DVD and Blu-ray high-definition formats. In rentals, the movie took in $11.3 million.

BIG IMAX VICTIM OF LITTLE ANT

The summer glut of animated family films had a crushing impact on giant-screen exhibitor IMAX, which grossed only $7.1 million from Warner Bros.' The Ant Bully during the third quarter.IMAX had converted the entire film into 3-D, but, because of a disappointing opening in conventional theaters, rolled out Bully into only a relatively small number of its own theaters capable of exhibiting the film in 3-D. It elected to keep Superman Returns in the remainder. (Only a few scenes in Superman were remastered in 3-D, which nevertheless earned $30.8 million in IMAX theaters.) Tickets to IMAX films are sold at a premium, and analysts indicated that by the time The Ant Bully was released on July 28, family heads had concluded that they had spent enough on movies for the season. IMAX reported a $12-million net loss for the quarter, down from a $2.3 million profit in the comparable quarter a year ago. Daily Variety reported today (Thursday) that the company is working on a digital exhibition system that could significantly cut the costs of IMAX prints from the current $30,000 each.

WILL 20TH CENTURY FOX JOIN DISNEY ON ITUNES?

Twentieth Century Fox may be close to a deal with Apple to provide its feature films on the computer company's iTunes Music Store website, CNN reported Wednesday. The cable news network said that News Corp President and COO Peter Chernin told analysts during a conference call that the studio had been having "positive talks" with Apple but that "several details still needed to be worked out" before an announcement could be made. Hollywood studios including Fox have hesitated to make their films available at a price below that of DVDs, something that Apple has insisted on. So far, only Disney has made films available on the iTunes site. (Apple chief Steve Jobs is Disney's largest individual shareholder.) Since September 12, the date Disney films went on sale for the first time, Apple has reportedly sold 125,000 copies. Sales are expected to climb beginning this week with the release of the Disney hit, Cars.

WARNER BROS. WITHDRAWING FROM THEATER BIZ IN CHINA

Balking at new regulations in China preventing foreign companies from owning a controlling interest in movie theaters, Warner Bros. International Cinemas (WBIC) is pulling out of the country. The company currently holds a controlling stake in three multiplex theaters and in two others under construction. It had also been planning to open a huge complex in Shanghai. In a statement, it said that the new regulations left it with "no other options than to stop its investments in cinemas in the [Chinese] market." Today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times commented that the decision "underscores Hollywood's frustrations operating in China" -- pointing out that while the country presents the prospect of "the world's best growth opportunity," it also has erected a wall of countervailing protective regulations.

SIX MONTHS BEFORE PREMIERE, SONY LAUNCHES SPIDEY CAMPAIGN

Sony Films plans to launch its marketing campaign for Columbia's Spider-Man 3 with a high-definition, 2 1/2-minute trailer for the movie set to be posted for downloading from MTV's iFilm.com website at 9:00 p.m. tonight (Thursday). An hour later, the trailer is scheduled to be broadcast on CBS after CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It is also due to be shown prior to South Park on Comedy Central and before Real World/Road Rules Challenge on MTV. In addition, the trailer will be unveiled in theaters beginning on Friday, nearly six months before the official opening of the movie on May 4.

Brian B.