Miramax sets Leo starrer to face off with 'Lord'

See chartFacing a holiday release schedule more claustrophobic than the teeming streets of old Manhattan, Miramax Films has decided to open “Gangs of New York” Dec. 20.

The mini-major will bow the Martin Scorsese historical epic on 2,500 screens, muscling into an opening-weekend frame that already includes “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” Denzel Washington’s directorial debut, “Antwone Fisher,” the Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, “Two Weeks Notice,” and the animated Nickelodeon cartoon adaptation, “The Wild Thornberrys.”

The new release date is the latest twist in a distribution saga that has seen Miramax reposition the pic several times. The stakes have always been high for the pic, whose budget is roughly $100 million, according to Miramax.

Originally set to hit theaters in December 2001, the pic was rescheduled for July 2002, then transplanted to Dec. 25, a move that pitted “Gangs” against another Leonardo DiCaprio starrer, DreamWorks’ “Catch Me if You Can.” Following talks with DreamWorks (Daily Variety, Oct. 10), Miramax decided to put some space between the pics.

“Rings,” which bows two days before “Gangs,” on Wednesday, Dec. 18, should provide the toughest competition. Both are violent period sagas, and “Rings,” whose first installment opened to $75 million over five days last December, will be on 5,500 screens, with a brand-awareness driven, in part, by a November DVD release of the first installment that includes 30 minutes of additional footage. “Rings,” which is rated PG-13, also casts its net over a wider demo. “Gangs” is rated R.

Miramax chair of worldwide distribution Rick Sands told Daily Variety that in past years, the holiday frame has provided room enough for more than one tentpole.

Two years ago, the opening weekend for “Cast Away” yielded $40 million for the Tom Hanks pic, $22 million for “What Women Want,” which opened the week before, and $15 million for “The Grinch,” then in its 6th week in release.

Buzz among older auds

Sands noted that “Gangs,” which stars DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz, benefits from strong buzz among filmgoers slightly older than the “Rings” demo. Last month, he said, awareness of the pic among men 25 years and older was 63%, according to an NRG poll commissioned by Miramax.

“That pre-Christmas week,” he said, “all the colleges are out. The 18 to 34 audience will see the movie immediately. Older demographics take longer to make up their mind. They’ll go, starting in the second week.”

But “Gangs” has precious little breathing room.

The logjam of holiday event pics will create such fierce competition for screens that some early December releases could die on the vine before Christmas. Paramount opens “Star Trek: Nemesis” on Dec. 13; the week before that, Warner Bros. bows “Analyze That.”

The U.S. release of Dec. 20 now is the worldwide opening of “Gangs,” a pic whose star wattage and violent content should play well overseas. Pic bows in Japan Dec. 21.

Miramax Films, which sold foreign rights to IEG for $68 million, will not participate in the foreign haul.

But the opening weekend showdown between “Rings” and “Gangs” will prove lucrative for Miramax co-chairs Harvey and Bob Weinstein no matter how “Gangs” performs. The Weinsteins, who own gross points on “Rings,” have already earned millions of dollars from the New Line franchise.

HOMING IN FOR HOLIDAYS
Miramax avoids a Leo vs. Leo showdown by shifting “Gangs of New York” from Christmas Day to Dec. 20, but still faces a crowded field.

Gangs of
New York

Friday, Dec. 13
Star Trek: Nemesis
Maid in Manhattan
Evelyn
The Hot Chick
The Guys
About Schmidt

Wed., Dec. 18
Lord of the Rings:
 The Two Towers

Friday, Dec. 20
Gangs of New York
The 25th Hour

Antwone Fisher
The Wild Thornberrys
Narc
Two Weeks Notice

Wed., Dec. 25
Catch Me If You Can
Chicago
Pinocchio
The Lion King
 (large format)
Nicholas Nickleby

Friday, Dec. 27
Confessions of a
 Dangerous Mind

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