Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" had a mixed opening on Wednesday night. What may be the most expensive movie in history — with a reputed cost of $182 million and up — took in $21 million.
That was certainly no record.
"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" brought in $50 million when it opened on May 19. "Spider-Man 2" had a first-day take of $40 million when it opened two years ago.
Just for perspective, "Batman Begins," which cost a lot less than "War of the Worlds," opened with $15 million. It's currently up to $132 million domestically. The numbers slowed down significantly after the first couple of weeks.
For Paramount, already sitting on a big-money loser with "Sahara," the next two days will be critical if "War of the Worlds" is going to be a breakthrough hit or just another overpriced write-off.
"War of the Worlds" will benefit this weekend from a couple of things.
First of all, there isn't much competition from either "Batman" or "Bewitched." Second, yesterday was the first day of a "six-day weekend" that runs through Monday, July 4. Watch Paramount publicists try to figure out some sort of news peg or "record" that "War" can break between now and then.
But with $40 million gone to Spielberg and Tom Cruise, another $50 million on promotion and probably another $50 million just on special effects, "War of the Worlds" has a long way to go before it sees profitability. It may take the whole world to do so.
On Wednesday, another $13 million was racked up in foreign countries. Paramount will be relying on foreign audiences, as usual, to appreciate the visual greatness of the film while not necessarily caring about a story not in their first languages.
Nevertheless, at home "War of the Worlds" will be watched over the next few days for its per-screen average. It's currently playing on as many screens as Paramount could find: 3,908.
By next Friday, if theaters are not full, expect a significant downsizing to a more manageable number.
And what effect has Cruise's crazy publicity campaign had? One thing's for sure: Audiences did not throng to the theaters on Wednesday night based on Cruise, his romance or his religion. They went out of a desire to see a Spielberg spectacle.
The reviews for Cruise's performance were lukewarm, and his last several releases have not been blockbusters at all. What remains to be seen is whether or not his carpeting of the media with his own personal agendas will have a negative effect on the box office. That should be known by as early as Saturday morning.
By now you may know that Peter Jackson, the Oscar-winning director of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, is suing New Line Cinema, the studio that made the trilogy.
Jackson's main complaint is that New Line didn't open bidding for the rights to things like DVDs to competitors, but instead sold the rights in-house to other Time Warner subsidiaries.
The result is that Jackson thinks he's been denied about $100 million.
Is it true? Is he right? I have no idea. But this much I do know: Somehow, the "Lord of the Rings" saga was not going to end well.
I can now tell you that, Jackson's problems aside, I have heard nothing but grumbling about money from various actors in the series for the past three years.
The low rumble of dissatisfaction began after the first movie, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," turned out to be a blockbuster.
If you recall, Jackson — who shot principal photography for all three movies simultaneously — went right back into post-production after the 2002 Academy Awards to get the second film ready for a December 2002 release.
But he knew he needed the actors back in New Zealand to fix things, reshoot some scenes, etc.
Unfortunately, New Line didn't want to pay the actors more money for the additional work — even though it was happy to fly them all back to New Zealand and underwrite the travel expense.
Later, after the complaining actors got their dough, there were more issues involving merchandising.
And even later, when Jackson needed a bunch of the actors to come back one more time to tidy up the release of the third and final chapter, a new outbreak of fiscal unpleasantness was released.
At one point I was told that Sean Astin, who played Sam Gamgee the Hobbit, "was close to losing his house" because New Line had not ponied up the remaining fees.
Astin's rep denied the claim, and there were no reports of Patty Duke's son panhandling in public.
The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy wound up making about $3 billion in movie theaters around the world. That doesn't count the huge DVD rentals and sales, ancillary sales to cable and pay TV and all those souvenir items like little Frodos and Gollums.
Wouldn't it have it been easier for New Line simply to pay everyone what they were owed rather than open up a public inquiry?
You'd have thought that anyone in showbiz who followed the Michael Eisner-Michael Ovitz lawsuit last year would have gleaned at least that much.
But now, thanks to bad advice, we may get to hear a lot about New Line's inner workings. And with any studio, that's a delicious idea to savor.
Think of those actors who thought they'd been screwed; wait 'til their lawyers get their hands on the depositions and filings.
Middle-Earth may be at war for longer than J.R.R. Tolkien ever imagined.
Michael Jackson had very little choice this week.
With his cash reserves dwindling, Jackson headed to Bahrain, where his brother Jermaine Jackson has been secretly toiling for some time.
Michael is said to be the guest of Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the king.
This change in Jackson's plans means that in the intramural rivalry at Neverland, Jermaine and Grace Rwarmba, Michael's children's nanny, have scored a victory over brother Randy Jackson.
In the dysfunctional Jackson family, that really means something, since Randy and Jermaine are bitter enemies.
But Michael may not realize what he's getting himself into.
Nanny Grace, with whom he is said to be having some kind of relationship, had a previous clandestine relationship with Jermaine.
"Michael would hate that if he knew it," says a source.
Jermaine and Grace were influential in December 2003, when the Nation of Islam took over Jackson's life and drove just about everyone else out.
There's a real fear among Neverland insiders that the same thing will happen again now that Michael is far from brother Randy's watchful eye.
As for reports yesterday that Michael stayed an interim night or two at the very expensive Hotel Crillon in Paris, one insider quipped: "I hope they don't expect to be paid anytime soon."
The tragic sudden death Monday of former model-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey was the second recent blow to the family of Peter Morton.
The creator of the Hard Rock Café, Hard Rock Hotel and Morton's restaurant was Domino's former stepfather.
Peter Morton and Pauline Harvey had been married in the 1980s. Domino's sister is Sophie Harvey, the Los Angeles-based interior designer whose work appears in Morton's establishments.
Earlier this spring, Morton lost his father, Arnie Morton, creator of the Morton's steakhouse chain of restaurants.