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Twentieth Century Fox has won an auction for “The Day After Tomorrow,” the Roland Emmerich-directed disaster extravaganza about global warming that creates hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and the onset of the next ice age, penned by Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff.

CAA took the script to the marketplace on Wednesday, and Fox had sewn up a deal by Friday, even as Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks circled what promises to be a summer 2003 tentpole.

Fox enjoyed incumbent position because producer Mark Gordon located his first-look deal there last year, and the studio did such a bang-up job in helping to propel Emmerich’s “Independence Day” to worldwide grosses of over $900 million.

Back in 1995, Fox won “ID4” by guaranteeing a fast greenlight for a film that hoped to dominate the following summer. This sale was a carbon copy, except for costs.

Fox has agreed to put “The Day After Tomorrow” in pre-production immediately for a fall start. But the costs of cinematically destroying the world has certainly changed in seven years. In the case of “ID4,” Fox agreed to a $40 million below-the-line budget and paid partners Emmerich and writer-producer Dean Devlin $7.5 million.

Budget: $125 mil

According to sources familiar with the spec package presented to studios last week, the projected budget of “The Day After Tomorrow” was $125 million, with Emmerich to get $10 million against 10% of the gross. Despite that, studio execs who were monitoring the tracking numbers on “Spider-Man” were bullish about the event potential of the spec and lined up to make a deal.

Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Tom Rothman, who made the deal with partner Jim Gianopulos, denied Fox had committed to a budget quite that high and said that the property’s appeal stems in part from the fact that the majority of the budget will be visible onscreen in the myriad natural disasters depicted in the cautionary spectacle.

“It might reach $100 million, but the reason it won’t hit that higher number is that the star is Roland and what he puts on the screen,” Rothman said. “There’s no need for star casting, and that was one of a number of appealing factors which made so many studios want it. This ain’t a sequel, it ain’t a remake, and while there are plenty of those being made, we feel audiences are going to want new experiences. It was a terrific script that’s ready to go right away. It’s a big idea with an excellent producer and a filmmaker who does this kind of movie par excellence.”

Early action prompted

Producer Gordon, who has been involved in his share of hits like “Speed” and “Saving Private Ryan,” said he’d never had a script generate this much action so early on. He became involved after Emmerich wrote a first draft and showed it to Gordon, who was a producer on the Emmerich-directed “The Patriot.”

With Nachmanoff, they did several other drafts before CAA put it on the market with a ticking clock similar to the one CAA used to auction “Hawaii Five-O,” which now appears headed for Intermedia days after that producer bought remake rights to “Billy Jack.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gordon said. “In the case of both ‘Speed’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ the deals were done under the radar and it wasn’t until much later that people paid attention.”

While Gordon’s been on the lot for only about six months, he has already become one of the studio’s most industrious producers, with three films in pre-production that all have event potential. Besides Emmerich’s film, Gordon’s is producing “Tripoli,” which will be a “Gladiator” reteam of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” the Sean Connery starrer Rothman said is a contender for what may shape up as Fox’s most ambitious summer season in 2003.

Big summer looms

“We are planning for a big summer, with several big event pictures on the boards,” Rothman said.

A sequel to the Marvel Comics franchise “X-Men” has been set for the “Spider-Man” slot, May 2, 2003. Aside from “The Day After Tomorrow,” Fox also expects its summer to include either “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” or the Peter Weir-directed Crowe-starrer “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Earth.” Fox also has “Tripoli” and the Steven Soderbergh-directed George Clooney-starrer “Solaris” coming in similar proximity.