Mouse House, DreamWorks Back Off Box Office Brawl

One way that studio execs get their jollies is to play chicken with release dates of their films. In their version of High Noon, the biz school grads stake out a weekend, sometimes a year in advance, and wait to see if anyone else dares to counter-program the same slot with their studio’s title. More often than not, someone blinks, and backs off to another weekend down the line.

Such is the case with Disney/DreamWorks’ long-running rivalry with their animated fare. Since May, both DreamWorks’ Sharkslayer and Disney’s next Pixar title, helmer Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, were scheduled to go mano a mano on November 5, 2004. Now, hoping to avoid a potentially disastrous box office duel, D’Works has moved Sharkslayer’s release to October 1, 2004.

“After looking long and hard at next year’s holiday season, the unbelievably crowded marketplace in November of family films was not the best place for the movie,” DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press told Daily Variety this week. If the film is a smash, at least D’Works will have set the bar for Disney to match. “We believe in the movie, and we believe it can play well and dominate October,” Press said. “If you have the material, there’s no specific season anymore for an event film.”

The rivalry between the two studios is fueled in part by the near-legendary antipathy between Disney CEO Michael Eisner and DreamWorks’ principle and former Disney boy wonder Jeffery Katzenberg. In a game that was more sideshow than main-event D’Works had claimed the November 5 release date first last December. In May, Disney suddenly announced it was also choosing the date for The Incredibles and the confrontation was on. When D’Works execs expressed surpise at the move Disney execs replied that no one owns a date.