Sony cycles Cage starrer to 2007

A correction was made to this article at 8:16 p.m.

Sony’s jam-packed 2006 slate has its first casualty.

The studio’s $120 million Nicolas Cage starrer “Ghost Rider,” based on the Marvel comicbook, has been bumped from its July 14, 2006, release date to President’s Day weekend (Feb. 16) 2007.

Move won’t likely be the last for Sony, which still has six other pics to unspool during the upcoming summer months. Sony has 28 pics lined up for 2006 from its four divisions (Columbia, Screen Gems, TriStar and Revolution). Besides clearing the runway, moving films provides a breather for the Sony marketing department, which is in the midst of a reshuffle. Sony’s worldwide marketing honcho Geoffrey Ammer is ankling in the new year and will likely be replaced by TriStar prexy Val Van Galder.

Sony’s other summer ’06 pics include Columbia’s “The Da Vinci Code” (May 19); Col/Revolution’s “Click” (June 23); Sony Pictures Animation’s “Monster House” (July 21); Col’s Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy (Aug. 4); and Revolution’s Tim Allen starrer “Zoom” (Aug. 11) and “Little Man” (May 26).

“I think everybody is looking at their release schedules in ’06 and trying to avoid some of the traffic jams,” Sony vice chairman Jeff Blake told Daily Variety. “Seven films for a summer is a lot.”

Marvel Studios must now undo a carefully laid out plan of ancillary tie-in deals. Company declined comment on the matter. New release date gives the studio an expensive action pic with which to start 2007.

This year, President’s Day weekend was the only bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year for Sony. That’s when the Will Smith romantic comedy “Hitch” — the studio’s last blockbuster — was unspooled. Marvel’s Avi Arad, director Mark Steven Johnson and his producing partner Gary Foster also found that slot to be a lucky one when they released “Daredevil” in 2003.

The February date also allows some buffer space between “Ghost Rider” and another Marvel franchise, “Spider-Man 3,” which Sony is releasing three months later in May.

Sony found the February date a better launching pad than the fall, which has become a haven for horror and family dramas, and when SPE will release such films as Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson starrer “Gridiron Gang” and a sequel to “The Grudge.”

Moreover, “Ghost Rider” no longer has to worry about opening in such close proximity to the June 30 bow of “Superman Returns” and the July 5 bow of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel and one week before SPE’s franchise hopeful “Monster House.”

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