Holiday weekends shape up with hellish skeds

Period is packed with high-profile and prestige fare

Hollywood distribution execs are already steaming over this year’s unusually hellish holidays movie sked.

In fact, most of the winter is something of a mess, with overcrowded conditions portending the kind of precipitous second-week drops in movie perfs so endemic to summer box office these days. But it only gets worse in late November.

Disney, which usually owns Thanksgiving, must share the lucrative B.O. weekend this year with two other high-profile releases. Mouse House tooner “Treasure Planet” will vie with Sony’s older-skewing toon “Adam Sandler’s 8 Crazy Nights” and 20th Century Fox’s “Solaris,” a live-action sci-fier helmed by Steven Soderbergh.

Distribs say their Thanksgiving pics target different auds and thus won’t overlap severely. But they’ll surely be popping Pepto Bismol over the prospect of their Turkey Day slottings unspooling one week after MGM bows its broad-appeal 007 pic “Die Another Day.”

There’s further anxiety because Thanksgiving falls so late on the calendar this year, just prior to the last weekend in November. That will mean the holiday weekend overlaps the first two days of Chanukah, further muddying the waters.

Meanwhile, it seems a safe bet that one or more of the pics currently skedded to battle it out in pre-Christmas and Christmas seshes will abandon their trenches and retreat to less crowded frames.

After all, can the public possibly hunger for two Christmas Day openers starring Leonardo DiCaprio? Will Miramax move “Gangs of New York” or DreamWorks shift “Catch Me If You Can”?

“We were first on the date, and we’re not moving,” DreamWorks marketing maven Terry Press says. “That’s categorical.”

Miramax is thought to be mulling a switch of its much grittier Leo starrer for the third time, following long-running production difficulties. But the distrib is checking and double-checking its Christmas list, lest it blink and make a move more naughty than nice.

Its hesitancy is understandable, as the pre-New Year’s frame holds special cachet this year. Christmas falls on a Wednesday, kicking off a five-day holiday frame, Dec. 25-29.

Moreover, the sesh concludes a mere two days before New Year’s Eve. So, many workers and most students will be enjoying an eight-day span of vacation days — and potentially moviegoing.

“We should benefit from the holidays falling in the middle of the week,” says Dan Marks, exec veep at B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. “People will stretch their time off, and leisure activities will kick up a bit.”

But other than the lure of big B.O., nobody knows why studios are so intent on stepping on each other’s toes. One factor may be distribs’ more expansive view of holiday skedding.

No longer do distribs look just for holidays falling on a weekend: “Now it’s any weekend that’s around a holiday,” DreamWorks’ Press suggests. And she doesn’t see an end to the mayhem any time soon, however unfortunate the consequences.

“It’s everybody jumping off a cliff at the same time,” Press quips. “We’ve discussed this ad nauseam, (but) there’s no solution. It’s like a perpetual virus — it just won’t go away.”

A full holiday slate is nothing new at Miramax, which this year has Roberto Benigni’s “Pinocchio” live-actioner slotted for wide release on Christmas Day along with “Gangs.” But that doesn’t make it any less stressful for execs.

“It feels real crowded, and somebody’s pictures won’t work,” Miramax’s L.A. prexy Mark Gill says. “We just don’t know which pictures they’ll be.”

Chuck Viane, head cheese for Mouse House distribution, is a bit more upbeat.

“Any time you have an abundance of competition, it makes it more difficult,” Viane says. “But if the pictures are clearly defined from one another, things should work out great.”

New Line’s Russell Schwartz is even more sanguine about prospects for the second installment of his studio’s “The Lord of the Rings” tentpole, “The Two Towers,” which faces three wide-release rivals over the pre-Christmas frame.

“The other movies could work, but they certainly won’t take screens away from us — or business,” Schwartz asserts. “And though it is crowded, there could be a lot of sellouts with ‘Two Towers.’ So, people will have some other (moviegoing) options.”

Of course, distribs will be hoping those options don’t include just staying at home.

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