Col waits til Christmas to unwrap its ‘Ali’ bio

Sony to unwrap biopic in late December

This article corrected on October 9th.
Sony’s high-profile biopic “Ali” is floating like a butterfly to Christmas Day.

Michael Mann-helmed drama had been set for a Dec. 7 bow, and at one point distrib mulled a Dec. 14 launch until deciding Paramount’s “Vanilla Sky” posed too much competish.

Sony finally settled on Dec. 25, when Will Smith starrer “Ali” will open in roughly 2,500-plus theaters. Distrib attributed move to appeal of a Christmas bow rather than any problem with the original date.

“There’s tough competition on every weekend,” Sony marketing and distribution topper Jeff Blake said. “We picked Christmas Day because it’s a big-event date for what we know is a big-event movie.”

Sony plans to begin airing TV spots for “Ali” in early November, a couple weeks later than once planned.

“We considered a lot of dates, but at the end of the day, Christmas Day seemed very strong to us,” Blake said. “We’ve seen the movie internally just recently, and we’re very confident we have a big, wide commercial-appeal hit that will make a big impact on Christmas Day.”

Challenges

Still, industry insiders have suggested the original date for “Ali” posed a couple specific problems:

  • Dec. 7 bow would have sent tale of boxer-turned-Muslim draft objector into theaters on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, even as the recent U.S. terrorist attacks apparently by Muslim extremists have Americans feeling especially patriotic.

  • “Ali” would have squared off against Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven,” a highly anticipated ensemble laffer that’s been doing well with prospective auds in pre-release tracking data.

    On the other hand, the new yuletide release date puts “Ali” thick in the middle of other competish, though one or more pics currently skedded for then could shift as a result of Sony’s move.

    Miramax is skedded to unspool Martin Scorsese’s period epic “Gangs of New York” on Dec. 21, though rumors are still flying that distrib could delay bow considerably. And New Line is firmly committed to bowing its much-hyped “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship” on Dec. 19.

New Line holds line

“We are going worldwide day-and-date with our picture, and (the Sony move) will have no effect,” a New Line spokeswoman said.

Universal has its “How High” laffer slotted to bow wide Dec. 26, and one day later distrib is skedded to unspool Russell Crowe starrer “A Beautiful Mind,” a co-production with Imagine Entertainment. U now will review those plans, with Oscar-hopeful “Beautiful Mind” a particular concern.

If “Mind” moves, it could be to a wide bow slotted sometime earlier or just a few days later. Alternately, “Mind” could be released on a limited number of screens this year to assure Academy consideration, then expand wide at a later date. (It’s unlikely filmmakers would forgo any 2001 release for pic.)

Limited Christmas debuts also are penciled in for Miramax’s bestseller-adaptation “The Shipping News” and Disney’s Wes Anderson-helmed laffer “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and USA has a limited opening skedded Dec. 26 for its Robert Altman-helmed “Gosford Park.”

DreamWorks’ “Time Machine” had been slotted for a wide bow Dec. 25, but distrib recently transported remake of the time-travel classic into next year.

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