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Universal, Fox and Paramount are the frontrunners in the ferocious bidding battle for “The Day After Tomorrow,” a spec script for a big-budget, high-concept sci-fi film in which the world is ravaged by global warming.

The film will be directed by Roland Emmerich, who nearly destroyed the world once already, with aliens in “Independence Day.” Mark Gordon is producing.

Other studios were still reading the script late Wednesday and might join those studios in the lightning round, but it appears likely that Emmerich will have a greenlight for a fall start. The bidding battle comes on the heels of a spec script frenzy for “Hawaii Five-O,” which, like “Day After Tomorrow,” was sold with a ticking clock. It harkens back to a time when studios battled into the night on spec scripts, with the winner paying millions of dollars to scribes like Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas for edgy, sexy actioners that could be put into the pipeline quickly.

The positive reception given both “Day” and “Five-O” may portend a renaissance for showy material sales. Then again, Hollywood continues loading up on derivative sequels and remakes. Execs may be pouncing on the first inspired high concept spec to come along in some time, perhaps to show the world that studios have not run out of original ideas after all.

For Emmerich, “The Day After Tomorrow” spec script auction is also reminiscent of another that was supervised by the same agent, CAA’s Michael Wimer, and that resulted in one of the most lucrative spec deals of all time.

Echo of ‘Independence’

Back in February 1995, Wimer came to market with “Independence Day,” a sci-fi spectacle with an irresistible marketing hook that promised the world would end on July 4, the weekend the movie would open. Studios were asked to guarantee a greenlight and start pre-production immediately so that Emmerich and then-partner Dean Devlin could hatch a cutting-edge alien invasion that nearly destroys the world and have it in theaters 17 months later. Fox beat out four other studios by agreeing to pay or play fees of $7.5 million to the filmmakers and a $40 million below-the-line budget. That number swelled, but the auction proved to be a great bargain for Fox, as “Independence Day” was one of the biggest grossing films ever, with $900 million worldwide.

Emmerich wrote “The Day After Tomorrow” with Jeffrey Nachmanoff, a director whose credits include “Hollywood Palms” and “The Big Gig.” Emmerich hatched the idea for the project, which revolves around an abrupt climate change that has dramatic consequences for the world. It marks the second recent film for Emmerich and Gordon, who worked together on Mel Gibson starrer “The Patriot.”