Pic in development, 'contemplated' release date 2007

Just as Sony puts the finishing touches on its $200 million production of “Spider-Man 2,” Marvel Enterprises is already crooning about “Spider-Man 3.”

News comes as the marketing push for “Spider-Man 2,” which bows July 2, is about to kick into overdrive. Studio is lining up new corporate sponsors and ramping up its worldwide marketing plans.

Sony confirmed that the studio has pushed “Spider-Man 3″ into development, but would not offer more details.

During a Q4 earnings conference call on Tuesday, Marvel Studios chairman-CEO Avi Arad said that “Spider-Man 3 is in development” and that a “contemplated release date will be probably 2007.”

Arad said the pic could possibly bow in 2006, but that “It is a big movie, and we would rather play it safe and talk about the 2007 at this point.”

There have been reports that director Sam Raimi has committed to making the movie, and agents and managers for Tobey Maguire (aka Peter Parker), have been working around a tentative “Spider-Man 3″ schedule when booking the thesp for other projects.

Arad would not comment further for Daily Variety, and a script for the film has not yet been written.

David Koepp was the screenwriter behind “Spider-Man.” The second film was worked on by a number of scribes, including Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Michael Chabon.

If the new film is released in 2006, the rollout will match the two-year lag between “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2.” The original “Spider-Man” was released in May 2002.

That film made history by earning a record-breaking $115 million on its opening weekend and going on to reap $800 million worldwide.

Pic turned things around for Sony, which was coming off a box office slump, and a sequel was quickly put into production, with returning cast of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.

Raimi and producer Laura Ziskin also returned for “Spider-Man 2,” which was screened by Sony execs earlier this year, but is being kept tightly under wraps. Fearing piracy, the studio said that screenings of the movie were being kept to a minimum and would be shown mainly to family and friends.

Considering the dealmaking complexities of “Spider-Man 2″ into production — at one point, Jake Gyllenhaal was poised to replace Maguire — there could still be some hurdles on the horizon.

One issue that could be contentious is Sony’s ongoing litigation with Marvel over licensing rights. Last year there were reports that the two companies would not partner in the event of a third film.

Marvel owns the rights to the Spider-Man comic book franchise, first published in 1962.

In the meantime, Sony is concentrating on “Spider-Man 2,” still four months from release. Pic’s trailer bowed in December and an updated version will premiere at ShoWest later this month.

The second Spidey was a costlier affair than the first film.

The final cost of “Spider-Man 2″ was $200 million compared with $120 million the first time around, in part due to production lags related to Maguire’s “Seabiscuit” schedule, and a higher paycheck for the returning talent; Maguire took home $17 million in upfront salary compared with $4 million on the original.

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