When "Rambo III" ran into production delays and had its opening postponed from Christmas to next year, executives at Carolco Pictures explained that the delay -- and the move to a new shooting location -- might save as much as $5 million to $6 million on the movie's $40 million budget.

Now we know why every penny counts: In the annual 10K report that Carolco recently filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company disclosed that Sylvester Stallone's up-front salary for the film is $16 million. That's almost certainly the largest initial payment ever made to an actor, easily eclipsing the $12 million that Cannon paid Stallone for his work in the short-lived arm-wrestling flop "Over the Top." Carolco is paying for quite a few of Stallone's bills these days: According to the report, the company paid him more than $12 million last year as his share of the profits of "First Blood" and "Rambo," and his recent 10-picture deal with the firm will also earn him 140,000 shares of Carolco common stock.

'Ishtar's' Pepsi Connection Well, "Ishtar" is finally upon us. At the advance screenings the audiences laugh, then walk out talking about the budget. ("Where'd the money go?" may be the most popular question, followed by "Does the moviegoing audience really care that it cost $40 million?" and "Where'd Elaine May find cute vultures?")

Amid all the talk, though, nobody's noticed what might be one of the film's most notable accomplishments. In one scene, CIA agent Charles Grodin calls on the corrupt leader of the mythical country of Ishtar, Emir Yousef (Aharon Ipale), who opens the conversation by offering Grodin wine, coffee or "Pepsi-Cola." We don't have any exact statistics, but this may be the first time Pepsi has been plugged in a Columbia Pictures release since the Coca-Cola Co. bought the studio several years ago -- and promptly sent out a memo demanding that Columbia do away with all of its Pepsi machines and repaint any walls that happened to be "Pepsi blue."

The Summer Sweepstakes It's about time for the big summer movies to revive box-office business, which last weekend fell below the comparable week in 1986 for one of the few times this year. "The Secret of My Success" and "Blind Date" are still holding on, but "Gardens of Stone" and "Hot Pursuit" opened poorly, while the likes of "Creepshow II" and "Extreme Prejudice" are dropping quickly. "Ishtar" may change things tomorrow, and "Beverly Hills Cop II" will certainly break a few records the following weekend.

There are disquieting reports, however, about one summer contender, the adaptation of John Updike's "The Witches of Eastwick." In this one, Jack Nicholson stars as the devilish lord of a coven of witches that includes Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher. It will be out in about a month, amid word that Nicholson may have overdone his patented crazy-man act.

The Cannes Deals This year's Cannes Film Festival announcements include news that Cannon Films has signed Meryl Streep to star in "Evil Angels," a new film from Australian director Fred Schepisi, who directed Streep in "Plenty." In its relentless quest to secure prestige stars, Cannon is reportedly paying Streep about $4 million ... Sally Kellerman will appear in "Boris and Natasha in Our Boy Badenov," a comedy about Russian spies based on characters from Jay Ward's "Rocky and Bullwinkle" animated cartoon series ... "Night of the Comet" director Thom Eberhardt will be behind the cameras for "The Impostor of Baker Street," a $10 million comedy-adventure with the intriguing premise that the bumbling Dr. Watson was actually the brains behind Sherlock Holmes ... And finally, one of Cannes' hottest properties is "Repentance," a Soviet film that hasn't officially been screened yet, but has already received distribution bids from four American companies.