U, WB resked to avoid 'Witch' wide release

Apparently, teen audiences aren’t the only ones scared by Artisan’s ultra-low-budget horror pic “The Blair Witch Project.”

In the wake of the pic’s spectacular limited debut, two major studios are shuffling their schedules, at least in part to avoid going up against “Blair’s” 800-screen expansion on July 30.

Universal has postponed the release of youth-oriented superhero comedy “Mystery Men” by one week to Aug. 6. At the same time, Warner Bros. has nudged its shark thriller “Deep Blue Sea” up from July 30 to July 28 in an effort to get a jump on the crowded weekend.

‘Fine tuning’

Universal distribution prexy Nikki Rocco described the last-minute move as “fine tuning,” noting that “Men” will face less competition for its core teen and young adult aud on the new date.

Warner Bros. distribution prexy Dan Fellman said it had decided to move “Sea” after positive reaction to the pic at a recent press junket. But he added that the strength of “Blair’s” limited opening was a factor in the move. “We’re expecting it to do extremely well,” said Fellman.

“Blair” bowed to $1.5 million in 27 theaters over the weekend, giving it a jaw-dropping per screen average of $56,002.

Top-grossing engagement

The film had the top-grossing engagement in the country with its $164,354 take at AMC’s Block 30 in Orange, Calif. On Monday, “Blair” grossed another $39,000 at the same theater.

Most impressively, the mockumentary, which is said to have been made for less than $100,000, achieved its grosses with no network advertising.

Artisan did make a number of cable buys and has begun its network campaign in anticipation of the July 30 expansion.

“Blair’ is expected to go into an additional 1,000 screens on Aug. 6 when MGM’s “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Disney’s “The Sixth Sense” and Warner Bros.’ “The Iron Giant” all open wide.

In an unrelated move, Disney has moved the release of its Viking actioner “The Thirteenth Warrior” from Aug. 13 to Aug. 27.

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