For the past several months, "The Godfather Part III" has been the most-talked-about film that nobody in the movie business had seen. But Wednesday night lots of people got to see the movie, which until now had been a closely guarded work-in-progress crucial to Paramount Pictures' Christmas hopes and director Francis Ford Coppola's career -- and judging from the industry preview screenings held in New York and Los Angeles, it stands a good chance of remaining the year's most-talked-about film.

The New York audience, according to one person in attendance, responded with "muted applause but a palpable sense of disappointment." Afterward the consensus was that Coppola's daughter, Sofia, a last-minute casting replacement for the then-ailing Winona Ryder, was out of her league. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the crowd applauded the first strains of the familiar "Godfather" theme, laughed at lines like "Politics and crime -- they're the same thing," and cheered loudly at the movie's end, and again when Andy Garcia's name came onscreen.

Opinions were divided in the lobby afterward -- they ranged from "too long" to "the best of the 'Godfather' films" -- but here's one sign that the film is liable to remain a hot topic of conversation: While crowds usually disperse quickly after preview screenings, this audience stood around in the lobby and outside the theater for some time, talking about what they'd just seen.

Ups and Downs

"Home Alone" is apparently unshakable in its perch atop the box office charts and "Misery" is firmly entrenched in second place, so the real action in this holiday season's shootout took place further down, with a few new movies that didn't challenge the leaders but nonetheless gave clear signs of their financial future.

To start on the downside, Clint Eastwood's "The Rookie" is in trouble already. For an Eastwood action movie to open as poorly as this one did -- averaging only $2,959 a screen, when "Home Alone," "Misery" and "Dances With Wolves" all did better than $5,000 -- means the former box office kingpin simply doesn't have much clout anymore; what's more, word of mouth won't help the movie much.

"Edward Scissorhands," on the other hand, did spectacularly well in a limited engagement prior to its nationwide opening today. Its near $80,000 per-screen average, in fact, was almost twice as much as the formidable first-weekend figures posted by "Dances With Wolves" -- though to be fair, "Wolves" was in 14 theaters and "Edward" in only two, and averages always decline as viewers who want to see a certain movie have more theaters from which to choose. Expanding to more than 1,000 screens, "Edward" may have a shot at "Home Alone" this weekend -- which wouldn't make 20th Century Fox too much, since the studio released both films ...

As if Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams don't supply enough star power, director Steven Spielberg has signed Julia Roberts to play Tinker Bell in "Hook," his update of the Peter Pan story. Filming starts in February ... Director Sam Raimi, who escaped the low-budget horror film ghetto with the surprisingly successful "Darkman," wasn't completely sold on the idea of working with a major studio when his film came out earlier this year. Universal Pictures didn't interfere too much, he said at the time, but he still found it much harder to inject his personality into the film than he had making "The Evil Dead" and its sequel -- and when asked then if he'd do another major studio film, he said yes, "but not as my next movie." Well, Raimi was wrong, because Universal has just signed a deal to release his next movie, "Army of Darkness." The director is making the film for Dino De Laurentiis Communications, for whom he also made "Evil Dead 2," but Universal will distribute several DDLC movies beginning next year.