Although Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy" is seen by some box-office experts as one of the summer blockbusters that didn't perform up to expectations, you can bet Walt Disney's Touchstone Home Video division will argue the point. Released on video by Touchstone midway through December, "Tracy" scored an impressive feat: It rang up orders of more than 476,000 copies from video stores to become the best-selling tape in the history of video rental.

Although movies priced below $25 sell in the millions to fans everywhere, no other movie priced for the rental market (generally anything above $30) has sold as many as this one. With "Tracy's" suggested list price of $92.95, the only buyers are the video merchants, not consumers.Helping to persuade retailers to buy so many copies was a Touchstone rebate plan focusing on used copies. Under its terms, once rental demand slackens and retailers put "Tracy" on sale as a "previously viewed" tape, the consumer can send in the cash-register receipt and cassette box for a $3 refund. Touchstone also will send back a spanking new box. In addition, rebate coupons for used "Tracys" will begin appearing in print ads around Academy Awards time in March.

Whom did Disney dethrone for selling the most copies of a rental-price cassette? No one - it merely retained the honor it captured when it sold an initial 465,000 copies of its own hit "Three Men and a Baby." Rounding out the top three is MGM's "Rain Man," at 455,000.

- FOR THE FIRST TIME, two competitors are about to join forces to promote each other's movies. RCA/Columbia is putting a preview of a Nelson Entertainment film on one of its own cassettes, and vice versa.

This oddity has been brought about by the near-simultaneous release on video of last summer's "Texasville" and the movie that introduced its characters, "The Last Picture Show" (1971). Both were based on novels by Larry McMurtry, and both were directed by Peter Bogdanovich.

"The Last Picture Show," nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture, has never been on video before. RCA/Columbia will release it on April 3 at $59.95. The sequel, "Texasville," which reunites some of the main characters 20 years later, will be released by Nelson Entertainment on April 25 (no list price).

Trailers on each tape will promote the other company's title, and posters and print ads for each will also mention the other. - Andy Wickstrom (Knight-Ridder)

- EVER SINCE STEVEN SCHEUER published the first edition of his durable paperback, "Movies on TV," 33 years ago, film critics and publishers and market-research specialists have been trying to come up with the ideal consumer-reports book on movies.

Leonard Maltin joined the club with his "TV Movies" in 1969, and the late Leslie Halliwell started his "Film Guide" in 1977. Pauline Kael, Danny Peary, Roger Ebert and other critics have also published collections of their reviews in a format designed to appeal to television and video audiences.

All of these books are filled with plentiful information as well as personal opinion. Halliwell's guide has more useful data than the other books, but aesthetically it's the most conservative of the group. Almost anything produced after 1950 automatically gets a lower star rating than movies made during Halliwell's "golden age."

Maltin's book is filled with invaluable information too, but it's also on the square side; don't expect a rave for "Blue Velvet" (it gets two out of four stars). If you're looking for more adventurous and/or idiosyncratic opinions, try Kael, who adores "Blue Velvet," or Peary, who has written books about cult movies.

This pesky diversity of critical opinion has apparently irritated enough people to finally produce a kind of anti-critics' movie guide called "HBO's Guide to Movies on Videocassette and Cable TV" (Harper Perennial, $14.95). No author is listed, although the book has several editors. Its creators emphasize that the star ratings in the book "are derived from our viewers' preferences, not individual opinions of the HBO staff."

These ratings were suggested by surveys of HBO viewers as well as "a panel of evaluators who are expert at estimating viewer tastes" (maybe they should run a studio; we'd have no more "Heaven's Gate" fiascos). The editors acknowledge that "older, black-and-white films, foreign films and documentaries tend to receive lower ratings."

Thus, "Citizen Kane," which is often cited by critics as the greatest film ever made, gets a lower rating than "Look Who's Talking," Neil Diamond's "The Jazz Singer" or Barbra Streisand's remake of "A Star Is Born."

The curious thing about the book is that critical opinion is included, and it often directly contradicts the star ratings. Someone had to write the summaries that follow those "viewers' preference" stars, and that someone clearly had an opinion.

Thus, Federico Fellini's "81/2" may get the lowest star rating in the book (which translates as "not recommended"), but it's described as a "classic" and "a masterpiece" in the summary that follows. Praised as "compelling," "magnetic" and "arresting" in the paragraph describing it, "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" also gets shot down with the viewers' preference "not recommended" star rating.- John Hartl (Seattle Times)