This phenomenon came into play last year when Sony Pictures announced the release of its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man, for the first weekend of May 2004. Since then, three major studios followed with their tentpoles.
Twentieth Century Fox grabbed May 28 for the release of its global warming sci-fi thriller Tomorrow; Universal Pictures chose May 21 to release its 19th-century horror actioner Van Helsing; and Paramount Studios announced Memorial Day for the release of Mission: Impossible 3.
Other titles targeted for 2004 releases include Universal's highly anticipated Vin Diesel sci-fi actioner Pitch Black 2, Sony-based Revolution Studio's XXX 2 and DreamWorks' animated feature Shrek 2.
Even 2005 dates are being snatched up; Fox, for example, pegged down the weekend before Memorial Day for Star Wars: Episode III. Other movies aimed at summer '05 include Paramount's Indiana Jones 4, Universal's Jurassic Park IV and Disney/Pixar's Cars.
With only six prime slots to choose from, including the first week in May, Memorial Day, the third week in June, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's no wonder studios are clamoring for dates.
Bill Mechanic, a Disney-based producer and former studio boss at Fox, told Variety the trend brings to light the risks associated with nine-figure tentpoles. "These films are so big now that studios feel they need squatter's rights to the best date."
According to Variety, however, venturing further out for release dates also has a down side. There's a risk that a rival studios might swoop in to steal away market share; moreover, stars, directors and f/x houses hesitate to get yoked to a firm release date. Above all, marketing vigor can outpace audience appetites: with releases announced so far ahead of the film, there's a chance people might get tired of hearing about the movie before it's even complete.