Western film 'Yuma' will bow Sept. 7

Lionsgate has scheduled an earlier departure for “3:10 to Yuma,” moving the Western’s launch up a month to Sept. 7.

New date gives the pic more breathing room in the fall prestige market and more time for the studio’s kudos campaign. “Yuma,” originally slated to bow Oct. 5, will now open ahead of Warner Bros.’ Brad Pitt starrer “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” which opens in a limited run Sept. 21, and Ethan and Joel Coen’s contempo oater “No Country for Old Men,” which Miramax opens Nov. 7.

“We certainly wanted to be the first Western in the marketplace,” said Lionsgate prexy of theatrical films Tom Ortenberg. “More importantly, in what is shaping up to be a very impressive and crowded field of upscale commercial motion pictures this fall, we wanted to be one of the first ones out, so that everything else will be measured against us.”

Lionsgate isn’t the only distrib looking at September as a platform to debut awards hopefuls. Other pics that month include Warner Independent’s “In the Valley of Elah,” from Paul Haggis; Universal’s “The Kingdom”; Paramount Vantage’s “Into the Wild”; and two from Focus: Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” and David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises.”

Lionsgate is planning a big awards campaign for “3:10,” helmed by James Mangold and starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol and Peter Fonda.

New release date precludes Lionsgate from using the Toronto Film Festival in early September as a platform for the pic, but the movie gains further distance from the year-end glut of awards hopefuls. And a DVD launch is being eyed for the first week of January, a key period in awards season.

In past years, studios have opened many awards hopefuls in November and December. But since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences moved up the Oscars to late February in 2004, things have started to shift.

In 2001 and 2002, for instance, all of Oscar’s five best pic nominees opened in December; for 2006, only one of the five nominees, Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” bowed in December. (“Babel” and winning pic “The Departed” opened in October, while “Little Miss Sunshine” opened in late July and “The Queen” in September.)

Lionsgate opened “Crash” in May 2004 and used its late-year DVD release to make sure the maximum number of kudos voters had access to the film, which went on to win the picture Oscar.

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