WARNER BROS.: A BILLION-DOLLAR STUDIO AGAIN

Warner Bros. said Monday that it just managed to squeeze past the $1-billion mark at the domestic box office for summer 2009. Thanks to the performance of its 3D horror flick The Final Destination, which took in slightly more than the studio expected, Warner Bros. wound up the summer with $1 billion plus $10,269. It was not as much as it earned last year, when it had The Dark Knight going for it, but it did manage to command 23 percent of the domestic box office. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman observed that having two billion-dollar years in a row "is an exceptional feat, considering that in '08 we had one movie that grossed over $500 million. ... It should be noted that so far this year, we had eight movies that opened No. 1, and we were No. 1 for 10 weekends." Paramount was the second-biggest earner for the summer with $885 million, helped in large measure by the DreamWorks blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Disney, which has cut back on the number of releases it turns out, placed third with $610 million.

The top ten films over the Labor Day weekend, according to final figures compiled by Box Office Mojo (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Final Destination, Warner Bros., $12,368,882/4 Days $15,295,069, 2 Wks. ($50,435,066); 2. Inglourious Basterds, Weinstein Co. $11,629,393/4 Days $14,950,486, 3 Wks. ($95,146,096); 3. All About Steve, 20th Century Fox, $11,241,214/4 Days $14058106, (New); 4. Gamer, Lionsgate, $9,156,057/4 Days $11,203,761, (New); 5. District 9, Sony/Tri-star, $7,076,937/4 Days $9,114,591, 4 Wks. ($103,388,712); 6. Julie & Julia, Sony, $5,324,583/4 Days $7,077,574, 3 Wks. ($80,717,968); 7. Halloween II, Weinstein Co. $5,745,206/4 Days $6,872,800, 2 Wks. ($26,928,692); 8. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Paramount, $5,175,113/4 Days $6,705,288, 5 Wks. ($141,021,754); 9. Extract, Miramax, $4,340,108/4 Days $5,513,634, (New); 10. The Time Traveler's Wife, Warner Bros., $4,326,787/4 Days $5,465,925, 4 Wks. ($55,809,927).

WARNER BROS. REACHES BIG SETTLEMENT WITH TOLKIEN HEIRS

Warner Bros. said on Tuesday that it had reached a settlement with the trustees of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien who claimed they were shortchanged by the studio for profits from the three Lord of the Rings movies. The lawsuit had also tied up further preproduction for the two-film The Hobbit prequel. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but reports indicated that the Tolkien heirs will receive in excess of $100 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: 9

Wednesday is not a day of the week when studios ordinarily release new films, not unless they're bona fide blockbusters, but studio marketers at Focus Films were not about to let the date 9/9/09 go by unnoticed -- not when they had a movie titled 9 to promote. The Tim Burton-produced animated film, which opens in 1,638 theaters today is receiving mixed reviews from critics, many of which compare it to last year's Pixar smash WALL-E. Several suggest that far more imagination went into the animation than into the story. As Claudia Puig puts it in her review in USA Today: "It's too bad the thin story didn't match the stylishly haunting visuals." Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls it "visually imaginative, though narratively impoverished." And the Associated Press's Christy Lemire writes that "the animation is so breathtaking in its originality, so weird and wondrous in its detail, you wish there were more meat to the screenplay." In fact, several critics are willing to forgive director Shane Acker for the narrative lapse, given what they regard as the breathtaking visual quality of the film. (Surprisingly, it is one of the few animated films of the year that was not released in 3D.) The movie, writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times, "lingers in a strange, sinister and brilliantly realized landscape rich with allusions to the histories of painting, animation, fantastic literature and 20th-century totalitarianism." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune, while finding much to criticize about the movie, nevertheless concludes: "Every year the envelope of contemporary animation is pushed, stretched and tested by all sorts of adventurous talents. Acker is one of them." And Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun writes that Acker "doesn't provide us with the riches of a born storyteller. But he just may be a born moviemaker. As a visual artist he sweeps you up in gimcrack panoramas that merge into a desolate beauty. This movie will make young-adult and older viewers alike gasp like toddlers amazed by their first pop-up book. Its imagery invades your eyes from every corner of the screen and swathes itself around your brain."

NETFLIX TO ALLOW ANYONE TO SEE WIZARD OF OZ

Netflix, the online movie renter, said Tuesday that it plans to stream the newly remastered The Wizard of Oz online for free (Netflix subscription not required) throughout the day on Oct. 3 at www.netflix.com/wizardofoz. The online presentation coincides with the release of a 70th anniversary special edition of the film that is being released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, as well as cable on broadband downloads. "Making a movie of this stature available for free over the Internet on an uninterrupted basis is a first," Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, said in a statement. "At the same time, it's a great opportunity for people to get a taste of what instantly watching movies streamed from Netflix is all about. We're thrilled to be able to do this on both scores." Warner Bros., which acquired the MGM film when it merged with Turner Entertainment, is also mounting a free live concert and screening in New York's Central Park on September 29.

REDBOX PARENT SPREADING KIOSKS IN U.K.

Coinstar, which operates the Redbox DVD rental kiosks in the U.S., is installing similar kiosks under its DVDXpress banner, at 18 Tesco supermarkets in Britain as part of a test run. DVD kiosks have not enjoyed the kind of popularity overseas that they have in the U.S. The DVDXpress kiosks charge considerably more than their Redbox counterparts in the U.S. -- about $2.50 versus $1.00 here -- but DVD rentals in Europe generally cost considerably more than they do in the U.S. Tesco operates about 4,300 markets in the U.K.

Cinemark Movie Club