“Spider-Man 2” Release Date Moves

Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is on the prowl for a new summer 2004 release date, and vampire slayer Van Helsing has set his sights on the now-vacant slot.

Columbia Pictures announced Wednesday that its Spider-Man sequel, originally set for release on May 7, 2004, will instead open July 2, 2004. The move caused Universal Pictures to pounce on the newly freed-up May 7 slot for its vampire pic Van Helsing, which had originally been set for a North American release May 21, 2004.

But while Spider-Man 2‘s July 2 release date is good news for Universal’s Van Helsing, it’s all a tangled web for 20th Century Fox, which has its Will Smith sci-fi pic I, Robot scheduled for that date.

Welcome to the fast moving world of movie jockeying.

Although the summer of 2004 is more than a year away, the time is ripe for studios hoping to set their tentpole release dates and establish squatter’s rights to some of the season’s hottest dates. Tentpoles require such early slotting because they are typically bogged down by elaborate promo considerations.

“The July 4 holiday weekend is traditionally one of the most anticipated weekends of the box office year, and it’s going to be a great date to launch Spider-Man 2,” Sony Pictures’ marketing and distribution boss Jeff Blake told The Hollywood Reporter Wednesday.

The Spider-Man move comes after shooting for the sequel was pushed from January to mid-April earlier this year. Production was delayed because star Tobey Maguire was working on Seabiscuit, which wrapped in February–a month after Spider-Man 2 hoped to begin production.

The onslaught of summer blockbusters use to start after Memorial Day, but stiff competition for box office dollars has forced the blockbuster season to begin in early May instead.

Van Helsing‘s May 7 fast-forward move will free it from the slate of heavy hitters coming to bat on May 21, including Paramount’s Mission: Impossible 3 starring Tom Cruise, and Warner Bros.’ Wolfgang Petersen-directed epic Troy starring Brad Pitt.

Dan Fellman, Warners’ president of domestic distribution, told The Reporter in January the claiming of release dates so far in advance has become overblown. “There’s a tendency for a lot of distributors to put their tentpole in the ground and pick a date far in advance, but those dates change so often due to production concerns or how strong the product winds up being,” he said. “Plus, you can’t scare anybody away today because there is so much competition and so much strong product being crammed into a relatively short frame.”