Sequel will go up against 'Fantastic' pic

Paramount Pictures has moved its Tom Cruise tentpole “Mission: Impossible 3″ back seven weeks, to June 29.

“M:I 3″ had previously been slated for the first week of May, the release date most sought after by studios in recent years.

But with Sony’s “Spider-Man 2″ grossing $40.5 million on its opening Wednesday, and heading for a six-day cume in the $150 million-plus range (which would set a record), the holiday best known for barbecues and fireworks is starting to looking more movie-biz friendly.

The shift sets up a confrontation between Par’s spy franchise and 20th Century Fox’s comicbook actioner “Fantastic Four” over next year’s Fourth of July weekend. “M:I 3″ will open on a Wednesday, while “Fantastic Four” is set to debut two days later.

The good news for Fox, though, is that its big-budget Ridley Scott Crusades epic “Kingdom of Heaven,” starring Orlando Bloom, now has May 6 (“Mission’s” earlier release date) all to itself. DreamWorks had huge success launching Scott’s “Gladiator” during the same frame in 2000.

Paramount vice chair Rob Friedman said the later date has greater potential on a worldwide basis, noting “M:I 3″ is likely to open day and date in a significant number of overseas territories. He also said the shift isn’t due to any expectation that the film would not have been ready for May 6.

“We just feel that June 29 is a better date,” he added. Lensing’s expected to begin next month.

It’s the second time “M:I 3″ has moved back. Last summer, Paramount quietly dropped its plan to release the pic as a 2004 summer tentpole after Cruise agreed to topline Michael Mann’s “Collateral” for DreamWorks. That film will open Aug. 6.

Par successfully employed May openings for the two “Mission: Impossible” films, with the first grossing $454 million worldwide in 1996 and the second following with $546 million worldwide four years later.

“Narc” director Joe Carnahan will helm “M:I 3,” to be produced by Cruise and Paula Wagner via their Par-based C/W Prods. Cruise again portrays agent Ethan Hunt. Ving Rhames, Carrie-Anne Moss, Kenneth Branagh and Scarlett Johansson also star.

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