NO BRAINER: SAW IV SET FOR NEXT YEAR

It didn't take long for Lionsgate to announce that it plans to release yet another Saw sequel next Halloween weekend. Word came as final figures indicated that the latest one, Saw III, had earned $33.61 million during its three-day opening, Lionsgate's biggest opening ever. Other newcomers got lost in the shuffle, failing even to make the top ten. Focus Features' Catch a Fire opened in 12th place with a scant $2.08 million. Death of a President bombed as it earned just $281,778 at 143 theaters. On the other hand, Paramount Vantage's Babel proved to be a weekend sensation as it took in $389,351 on just seven screens for a per-screen average of $55,621. (By contrast, Saw III took in $10,621 per theater.)

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

1. Saw III, Lionsgate, $33,610,391, (New); 2. The Departed, Warner Bros., $9,848,258, 4 Wks. ($91,098,431); 3. The Prestige, Disney, $9,573,215, 2 Wks. ($28,780,742); 4. Flags of Our Fathers, Paramount, $6,346,856, 2 Wks. ($19,923,069); 5. Open Season, Sony, $5,862,674, 5 Wks. ($7,7120,167); 6. Flicka, 20th Century Fox, $4,728,261, 2 Wks. ($13,891,482); 7. Man of the Year, Universal, $4,727,960, 3 Wks. ($28,884,500); 8. The Grudge 2, Sony, $3,264,336, 3 Wks. ($35,980,317); 9. Marie Antoinette, Sony, $2,845,815, 2 Wks. ($9,752,091); 10. Running With Scissors, Sony, $2,531,760, 2 Wks. ($2,865,340).

HALO WON'T SHINE

Although Microsoft's Wingnut Films and director Peter Jackson's Weta studios had said that they would continue pre-production work on Halo, a movie based on the video game, after Universal and 20th Century Fox backed out of co-financing it, Jackson and Microsoft announced today (Tuesday) that they had changed their minds and were shutting down the film -- at least temporarily. In a statement, they said that they had agreed to wait until backing was in place that would enable them to "fulfill the promise we made to millions of Halo fans throughout the world that we would settle for no less than bringing a first class film to the big screen." They nevertheless held out hope that the film would eventually be made. "While it will undoubtedly take a little longer for Halo to reach the big screen, we are confident that the final feature film will be well worth the wait," they said.

REDSTONE IN YET ANOTHER BLAST AT CRUISE

Sumner Redstone has resumed his attack on Tom Cruise, charging in an interview with Vanity Fair that Cruise "was embarrassing the studio. And he was costing us a lot of money." The Viacom chairman peremptorily cut off ties between his Paramount studios and Cruise's production company last August without apparently discussing his decision to do so with then-Viacom chief Tom Freston or Paramount Chairman Brad Grey. However, according to the Vanity Fair interview, he did consult with his wife Paula. "Paula, like women everywhere, had come to hate him. The truth of the matter is, I did listen to her," he said. "His behavior was entirely unacceptable to Paula and to the rest of the world. He just didn't turn one [woman] off. He turned off all women, and a lot of men." Redstone estimated that Cruise's controversial appearances on the Today show, when he chastised interviewer Matt Lauer for being "glib" and on Oprah, when he jumped on Winfrey's couch, cost Paramount "$100 million, $150 million on Mission: Impossible III. It was the best picture of the three, and it did the worst." Redstone concluded that his decision to axe Cruise "sent a message to the rest of the world that the time of the big star getting all this money is over. And it is! I would like to think that what I did, or what we did, has had a salutary effect on the rest of the industry."

NEW "KUBRICK FILM" TO BE MADE

The son-in-law of Stanley Kubrick is shepherding a film treatment titled Lunatic at Large to the screen after he discovered it among Kubrik's storage trunks, the New York Times reported today (Tuesday). According to the newspaper, Kubrick had commissioned the treatment from noir pulp novelist Jim Thompson in the 1950s, but it had become lost until the son-in-law, Philip Hobbs, discovered it after Kubrick's death in 1999. Hobbs told the Times, "I knew what it was right away, because I remember Stanley talking about 'Lunatic.' He was always saying he wished he knew where it was, because it was such a great idea." Veteran producer Edward R. Pressman (Phantom of the Paradise, Conan the Barbarian, Wall Street, The Crow) and London media company Finch & Partners are expected to announce today that the film will be directed by British TV director Chris Palmer from a finished script by Stephen R. Clarke.

Brian B.