Scorsese, DiCaprio pic delayed for economic reasons

Speculation by kudos prognosticators and Hollywood gossips went into overdrive during the weekend after Paramount announced its shift of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” from Oct. 2 to Feb. 19.

Paramount insists that it was a simple business decision. In a statement, studio chairman-CEO Brad Grey said “Shutter” will be more profitable in February: “Our 2009 slate was greenlit in a very different economic climate and as a result we must remain flexible and willing to recalibrate and adapt to a changing environment.”

If so, it’s a sober reminder to the industry when such a high-profile pic (directed by Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio) is vulnerable to considerations of P&A in a tough economy.

On the other hand, conspiracy theorists wondered why Par made the decision only six weeks before the pic would have opened. Studio clearly tried to downplay the news as much as possible by announcing the date shuffle on Friday afternoon.

The move throws a curveball to awards pundits, who had put the pic high on the list of possible contenders this year, given the Scorsese-DiCaprio track record and the fact that it’s based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”).

However, the trailers, which have been running for several months, sell it as a thriller, which is not always a genre that gets kudos attention. Still, Par execs indicated Friday that they believe “Shutter Island” will be as strong a contender for 2010 awards as it would have been this year.

“This is a situation facing every single studio as we all work through the financial pressures associated with the broader downturn,” Grey said in the statement. He cited Par’s obligation to “best manage Paramount’s business in a way that serves Viacom and its shareholders, while providing the film with every possible chance to succeed both creatively and financially.”

The international launch of “Shutter Island” will also be pushed back to February.

Move leaves Par with two or three films for the rest of this year. Horror entry “Carriers” is set for Sept. 4, and Peter Jackson’s drama “The Lovely Bones” opens Dec. 11. It hasn’t yet dated DreamWorks’ “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney, but it is aimed for sometime in the fourth quarter.

With the “Shutter Island” shift, Fox Searchlight reacted immediately by moving “Whip It,” its Drew Barrymore-helmed roller derby comedy, a week forward into the vacated slot. Sony then took the same step with “Zombieland,” also moving it a week forward. The only other pics set for wide release Oct. 2 are Disney’s 3-D re-releases of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.”

The Feb. 19 slot tentatively contains a pair of actioners: Lionsgate’s “From Paris With Love” and Screen Gems’ “Takers.”

Laeta Kalogridis penned the script for “Shutter,” which is a co-production between Phoenix Pictures, Scorsese’s Sikelia and DiCaprio’s Appian Way banners. Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brad Fischer and Scorsese are producing.

Pic is set in 1954, with DiCaprio portraying a U.S. marshal investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding on the remote Shutter Island.

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