Even as Sony counts the record proceeds coming in from the debut of ''Spider-Man 2,'' the major studios are already competing to see who'll win the opening-weekend sweepstakes on the July 4th holiday next year. Variety reports that Paramount decided on Thursday to move the opening date of ''Mission: Impossible 3'' seven weeks back, to June 29, 2005, where it will now go up against 20th Century Fox's ''Fantastic Four.'' The move means that Fox's ''Kingdom of Heaven,'' the Crusades epic starring Orlando Bloom, will no longer have to compete against Tom Cruise in ''M:I 3'' but will have the kickoff summer weekend of May 6 all to itself, just as ''Kingdom'' director Ridley Scott's ''Gladiator'' did in 2000.
The previous two ''Mission: Impossibles'' had great success with May openings, but ''Spidey 2'' showed the studios that there's money to be made by getting a jump on July 4. Paramount vice chair Rob Friedman told Variety that the studio moved the film because June 29 is a better date for a worldwide opening, not because the studio didn't expect the film to be ready for a May 6 release. Of course, ''M:I 3'' hasn't even gone before the cameras yet, while new rival ''Fantastic Four'' has yet to even announce a cast for its superhero saga. So it's possible that both films, which will be big-budget, effects-heavy spectacles, could get pushed back again.
Studios have already planted many such ''tentpole'' movies in next summer's calendar. The ''XXX'' sequel has staked a claim to May 13. ''Batman Begins'' is due June 17. Next July will see Nicole Kidman's ''Bewitched'' (July 8), Tim Burton's ''Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'' (July 15), and Steve Martin's ''The Pink Panther'' (July 22). And of course, the concluding installment of ''Star Wars'' has had a flag planted on May 19, 2005 for years.