Studio moves up release date in hopes of stimulating buzz

In an unusual 11th-hour move, 20th Century Fox said Monday that it’s debuting Denzel Washington starrer “Man on Fire” two days early in Gotham and L.A., unspooling in single venues in those markets Wednesday ahead of a wide bow Friday.

Decision was made after execs screened a final cut of the pic and saw an opportunity to stimulate early buzz on the Tony Scott-helmed actioner, Fox distribution prexy Bruce Snyder said.

“We thought that if we could get word of mouth going it would be well worth it,” Snyder said. Frame’s only other wide opener will be Sony romantic comedy “13 Going on 30,” toplined by Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. But the theatrical marketplace has been crowded of late, making it increasingly important for pics to generate positive early word of mouth, Snyder said.

“Man on Fire” is already tracking solidly, with a bow in the upper teen millions or higher considered likely. “13” is believed to be tracking in a similar range but relies more heavily on femme support.

In “Man,” Washington portrays a bodyguard hired to thwart the kidnapping of a young girl (Dakota Fanning). Plot also involves a vengeance theme, an inconvenient overlap with “Kill Bill Vol. 2″ and “The Punisher,” which both unspooled just last weekend.

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