Tom Cruise in "Jack Reacher," one of the many Christmas film… (Paramount Pictures )
In the chess game that is holiday movie releasing, someone had to lay down their queen. And this morning, Warner Bros. did just that, yanking Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” from its scheduled Christmas Day release and moving it to next summer.
Whatever the reasons for the switch, the postponement takes the star-studded 3-D update on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic out of Oscar contention for this year and also frees up the Christmas calendar -- sort of. Even with the move, the 2012 Christmas movie period is one of the most crowded in recent memory, and perhaps ever.
The seven days that run through Dec. 25 will see the release of the Judd Apatow comedy “This Is 40,” the Tom Cruise action pic “Jack Reacher,” Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden film “Zero Dark Thirty,” Quentin Tarantino’s period action-drama “Django Unchained” and a re-release of Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.”
Just a few days before that period comes the opening of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” of course, the first of Peter Jackson’s highly ancticipated new trio of movies set in Middle Earth, and “Les Miserables,” the new take on Victor Hugo’s novel starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.
Some of these films have distinct niches. But many of them will go for a broad holiday audience, which could mean a cannibalization of box-office dollars. Those dollars become even more important when you consider many of these films' price tags; the “Hobbit” and its 2013 sequel cost a combined half a billion dollars.
By comparison, last year the 10 days or so before Christmas saw a robust but somewhat less daunting crop of wide releases -- mainly ‘The Adventures of Tintin,” “We Bought a Zoo” and “Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” and new installments in the “Sherlock Holmes,” “Mission Impossible” and “Alvin & the Chipmunks” franchises.
Even so, there weren’t nearly enough dollars to go around. Faced with all this competition, “Tintin,” “Dragon Tattoo” and “Chipmunks” all fell short of even $15 million on their opening Christmas weekend.
So why are are studios doubling down on the period? Ask them and they’ll say that even with the crowded calendar Christmas remains the best time to release a movie. But the real reason may have as much to do with politics. If a film flops, executives can’t be held accountable for risky dating. “It’s Christmas. Who thought you couldn’t release a movie at Christmas?” is the easy refrain.
But many studios would prefer not to have to make excuses in the first place, which is likely one reason Warner's decided to get out of this game of chicken. I wouldn’t be surprised if a studio behind another movie makes a similar move as Warner's did with “Gatsby.” Like the era of Nick Carraway, moviedom's gilded age means that everyone seems to be rich, but many are in fact dirt poor.
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