‘Wolverine’ claws on May ’09 date

Liev Schreiber in final talks for 'X-Men' role

Twentieth Century Fox is sinking its claws into May 1, 2009, for the release of Hugh Jackman starrer “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which director Gavin Hood begins shooting later this year.

“Wolverine” is expected to feature many other mutants — some new to the film franchise and some from one or more of the three “X-Men” films. Liev Schreiber is reportedly in final talks to take on the role of a younger version of nemesis William Stryker, played by Brian Cox in “X2.”

This is the first time a title has been confirmed for the next chapter in the lucrative film franchise, based on the Marvel comic strip.

The first weekend in May, pegged as the first official weekend of summer, has become the most lucrative moviegoing weekend of the year. The date has been profitable for Marvel properties: “X2” debuted in the same frame in 2003, grossing a record-breaking $86 million, and Sony’s “Spider-Man 3” grossed a record- breaking $151 million in early May this year.

As of now, the only other film staking out the May 1, 2009, date is Disney’s toon “G-Force.”

There’s been much speculation about the spinoff, which gained speed when the studio finalized deals with Jackman (who reprises the role he played in the three “X-Men” pics), Hood and scribe David Benioff, who penned the script.

Pic explores the claw-wielding character Wolverine’s violent and romantic past, and his complex relationship with Victor Creed and the ominous Weapon X program, as well as his encounters with other mutants.

Hood will start shooting in Australia before moving to New Zealand and, later, to New Orleans. Latter location is a clue that the storyline might include New Orleans-based character Gambit, who is able to make objects explode and was a professional thief before joining the X-Men.

Producing are Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, producers of the “X-Men” movies, along with Jackman and producing partner John Palermo through their shingle Seed Prods. Marvel’s Kevin Feige will exec produce.

Together, the trio of “X-Men” pics have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Fox is pursuing another “X-Men” spinoff, based on the character Magneto.

Studio is looking to have a busy summer in 2009. On May 22 of that year, it releases James Cameron’s 3-D live-action “Avatar,” and, on July 1, “Ice Age 3.”

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