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Lion back in the ring with ‘Rocky’

Sony has overseas distribution for sixth installment

The Lion is back in Rocky’s corner.

MGM will release “Rocky Balboa” — the first pic on its new slate aimed at a broad audience — on Dec. 22.

Sixth installment in the boxing franchise is being co-financed by the Lion, Sony and Revolution. When pic was first announced last fall, MGM hadn’t yet relaunched as a distribution and marketing entity and Sony was set to distribute.

Lion will also handle marketing; Sony has overseas distribution.

Pic is the first to be distribbed by the new MGM that it partially financed. All the other films on its slate were financed by others, with MGM handling distribution, along with marketing in some cases, for a fee.

The other pics MGM has partially financed since going private, “The Pink Panther” and “Casino Royale,” were or will be handled by Sony.

Deal marks a coming home of sorts, as all five previous “Rocky” pics were made by United Artists, which MGM bought in 1981.

Christmas weekend release date is a crowded one that also includes the bows of “Dreamgirls,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “The Good Shepherd.”

“Rocky Balboa” is the biggest film by far that the new MGM will have handled at that point, so it represents a chance for the revived Lion to prove it can compete with the majors.

“This is our first major release in a major holiday period,” noted marketing prexy Perry Stahman. “We expect it’s going to play for a long time, and play well, and opening at Christmas gives us the best opportunity to do that.”

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