Howard Hughes, who went from a strapping billionaire filmmaker and aviator to reclusive germophobe, is suddenly the subject of multiple biopics.

The “Snake Eyes” team of Nicolas Cage, Brian DePalma and screenwriter David Koepp have joined forces to mount an epic film about Hughes. The idea grew out of a meeting with Disney executives, for whom Koepp thought he was writing a script. CAA, the agency which reps the star and director, will now shop it as a high powered spec package after Disney balked because of a budget preliminarily tagged at north of $80 million.

The Cage-DePalma-Koepp convergence lines up as a rival to a Hughes biopic which is taking shape at Universal with just as formidable a talent assemblage. Johnny Depp is attached to star in the U version for directors Allen and Albert Hughes, with screenwriter Terry Hayes adapting “Empire: The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes,” the biography written by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele. Hayes most recently adapted James Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” for Mel Gibson to direct and possibly star in next year, and he scripted the Jack the Ripper saga “From Hell” for the Brothers Hughes.

While those two seem to have the most urgency, there’s a third and long rumored possible Hughes film. Warren Beatty, who probably bears the closest physical resemblance of all to Hughes, has long pined to play the billionaire in a movie he would direct.

The town was buzzing that the Cage vehicle would be shopped as a spec shortly now that “Jurassic Park” scribe Koepp has completed his script. CAA will roll the dice with the spec package hoping to ride what is expected to be a hot opening for “Snake Eyes.”

When Cage could play Hughes is another issue. The actor, whose recent string of blockbusters has propelled him to the elite $20 million a picture club, has several picture commitments with A-list directors. He’ll next topline the Paul Schrader-scripted “Bringing Out the Dead” for Martin Scorsese and producer Scott Rudin, and he will star for Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer in “The Sea Wolf.”

Cage has also been huddling with “L.A. Confidential” director Curtis Hanson on the Beacon Communications comedy “Family Man,” about a lonely, driven businessman who gets to see what life would have been like if he’d married his high school sweetie when he awakens with a wife and house full of kids. Cage is CAA-repped and managed by Brillstein-Grey. Koepp is managed by Gavin Polone.

CASTINGS: Anthony LaPaglia, who left his Tony-winning starring role in “A View From the Bridge” to star with Sean Penn and Uma Thurman in Woody Allen’s next film, has now joined the cast of Spike Lee’s “The Summer of Sam.” He’ll play a police detective, starring with Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino and John Leguizamo. He’s also taken the co-starring role alongside Richard Dreyfuss in the John McNaughton-directed HBO biopic about mob figure Meyer Lansky, “Lansky,” and will star opposite Greta Scacchi this winter in the Australian film “Looking for Alibrandi.” LaPaglia’s repped by ICM’s Sam Cohn, JoAnne Coloona and Aleen Keshishian and managed by Industry Entertainment’s Julie Yorn.

Michael Rispoli, who’ll be seen with Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Gretchen Mol in Miramax’s “Rounders,” has also joined the cast of Spike Lee’s “The Summer of Sam.” Rispoli’s also shooting a recurring role in the HBO series “Sopranos” and just completed the indie “It Had to Be You” with Natasha Henstridge and Olivia D’Abo. He’s repped by Gersh’s Larry Taube and Lasher McManus and Robinson.

RETURN OF LEONE: Producer Stanley Brooks is determined to reheat the spaghetti Western. Brooks, the former Savoy TV prexy who named his company Once Upon a Time as an homage to his fave Sergio Leone films “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Once Upon a Time in America,” has just completed shooting his second telepic oater at the studio that Leone built in Almeria, Spain, and where he shot most of his stylishly violent films.

CBS will broadcast “Outlaw Justice” with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Travis Tritt and Waylon Jennings, and TNT will air “Dollar for the Dead” with Emilio Estevez and Howie Long. Gene Quintano wrote both and directed the latter, and Brooks and Quintano hope to do sequels to both and another Leone-style Western that Quintano wrote called “Scratch.”

While it seemed that kind of movie rode off into the sunset when Leone died, Brooks said the product is essentially John Woo for the 10-gallon hat contingent. “With new technology, we’re taking Leone where he himself would have gone were he still alive,” said Brooks.