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Studios shuffle 2009 summer sked

'Persia' pushed to Memorial Day 2010

The dating game for movies is more popular than ever as distributors comb the release calendar to check for openings and survey the competition.

Last week, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer announced they were pushing back the release of fantasy actioner “Prince of Persia” — a potential franchise along the lines of “Pirates of the Caribbean” — by nearly a year, from June 19 to Memorial Day 2010.

Looking to provide some counterprogramming and appeal to females, Disney simultaneously moved Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy “The Proposal” into the June 19 slot.

The Mouse House still had the date to itself — for all of 24 hours.

Taking advantage of “Prince of Persia’s” relocation, Fox quickly swooped in and claimed June 19 for Dwayne Johnson family comedy “The Tooth Fairy.” The time period is coveted since kids are out of school.

Earlier this week, a third comedy, Sony’s Judd Apatow-produced “Year One,” planted its flag on the same date. Laffer is being directed by Harold Ramis and toplines Jack Black and Michael Cera.

Just over a week ago, there was only film set to open over the June 19-21 frame. The decision to push back a high-profile title like “Prince of Persia” automatically sparks speculation that there is something wrong with the production, whether or not that’s true.

Other big pics that have sparked headlines when receiving new dates include J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” which Paramount pushed back from Christmas to May 9, and United Artists’ Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie,” which has been pushed back twice and most recently to Feb. 13.

But sometimes the benefits of pushing back a film outweigh the disadvantages.

The decision to move “Prince of Persia” leaves the Mouse House without a live-action tentpole in summer 2009, but neither the studio nor Bruckheimer wanted to get caught in the crosshairs of sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which Paramount and DreamWorks open a week later on June 26.

There was some last-minute reshuffling on this summer’s sked. Notably, Par and DreamWorks pushed back the release of “Tropic Thunder” from July 11 to Aug. 13.

DreamWorks and Paramount wanted to get out of the way of the bigger summer tentpoles, even though the first half of August already had two R-rated comedies, “Step Brothers” (July 25) and “Pineapple Express” (Aug. 6), both from Sony and both produced by Judd Apatow. The hope is that “Tropic Thunder” will have stronger legs, since it’s opening last.

“Pineapple Express” opened Wednesday to a boffo $12.1 million from 3,072 screens in the best-ever Wednesday bow in August. “Step Brothers” seemed to take a hit, grossing $1.9 million to place No. 6 for the day and declining 23% from Tuesday. That’s a bigger decline than other pics saw.

When “Tropic Thunder” moved to August, 20th Century Fox decided to open Eddie Murphy starrer “Meet Dave” on July 11. The fact that “Meet Dave” was a dud likely didn’t have anything to do with when it was released.

DreamWorks’ Shia LaBeouf thriller “Eagle Eye” was originally set to open next week but moved to Sept. 26 when “Tropic Thunder” was pushed back. September has historically been considered a low point for moviegoing, but with so many films flooding the market, every month of the year is game now, whether or not there’s the theater traffic to back it up.

Universal’s thriller-actioner “Death Race” was originally skedded to open on Sept. 26, but after “Eagle Eye” moved out of August, U decided to debut “Death Race” on Aug. 22.

Studios are showing an increasing willingness to decide at the 11th hour to open a summer or holiday pic midweek, as Sony did with “Pineapple Express.”

Warner Bros. also decided to open “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” on Wednesday. Like “Pineapple Express,” “Sisterhood” saw an excellent opening in grossing $5.7 million from 2,667.

While bowing midweek can lower the opening weekend gross, advantages include building good word of mouth .

Many of the bigger studios films in 2009 have already been dated, while the 2010 release calendar is slowly getting filled in. There could be other major changes like that of “Prince of Persia,” particularly with production schedules having been disrupted by labor strife.

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