When ‘Push’ comes to shove

Summit, Lionsgate battle over movie title

The MPAA registers 3,400 film titles a year.

It stands to reason that occasionally two disparate projects wind up with the same name.

Take the case (or cases) of “Push.” Over the past month, two worlds-apart films — one titled “Push,” the other “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire” — have garnered headlines and created confusion.

The book-based “Push,” which centers on an obese, abused teenager in Harlem trying to climb out of poverty, stole the show at Sundance, nabbing three awards including the grand jury prize. The Mo’Nique starrer was further pushed into the spotlight after Lionsgate announced Feb. 2 that it had bought the film — news that quickly prompted a lawsuit from the Weinstein Co., charging that it had sealed a deal for the film.

Around the same time, Summit Entertainment had the unfortunate task of opening its sci-fi Dakota Fanning starrer “Push,” which bowed Feb. 6. Summit admits that a number of journos confused its supernatural-themed thriller with the ghetto-set indie drama.

“There was a little bit of confusion within the community,” says a Summit marketer who worked on the campaign. “But among the general population of ticket-buyers, there was absolutely no awareness of this other film ‘Push.’ So, it had a miniscule, if any, impact on our campaign.”

Still, Lionsgate is working hard to make sure there’s no further head-scratching. The company has changed its film’s name to “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.”

Meanwhile, a separate title showdown is brewing between Focus Features’ apocalyptic animated fantasy “9” (which opens on the apt date of 9/9/09) and the Weinstein Co.’s ensemble musical “Nine” (bowing Nov. 25).

The MPAA’s title registration office tries to prevent such duplications. Companies cannot copyright titles. Instead, the MPAA notifies its members of all new titles registered with its office. If a studio or producer has a previously registered project with a similar name, it has 10 days to lodge an objection (at a cost of $15). If the two parties cannot come to a resolution, the MPAA will arbitrate, though the group says that scenario is extremely rare: Of the roughly 20,000 objections logged in 2008, there was only one case that made it to arbitration.

Because the MPAA keeps titles, objections and arbitrations confidential, there’s no word on whether that case involved the multiple “Push” projects or the twin “Nines.”