Fox Sets New Avatar , Museum 2 Dates

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20th Century Fox has solidified its 2009 tentpoles with four marquee titles, including Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian, the re-teaming of Ben Stiller, director Shawn Levy and the rest of the key creative team behind the original $575 million worldwide box office hit, Night at the Museum. With a Memorial Day weekend 2009 release of “Night at the Museum 2″ now set, Fox announced that it will release James Cameron’s Avatar on December 18, the very same weekend of the year as Titanic, which went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time.

Also enhancing the studio’s exceptional ’09 slate, Blue Sky Studios and Fox Animation announced that Ice Age 3, set for July 1 release, will, like Avatar, now be fully produced in digital 3D.

Joining these films will be X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman, set for a previously announced release on May 1.

The Fox 2009 tentpoles are now scheduled as follows:

May 1 – X-Men Origins: Wolverine
May 22 – Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian
July 1 – Ice Age 3
December 18 – Avatar

The predecessors of these four exceptional films have had unprecedented box office dominance: X-Men Origins: Wolverine extends a franchise that has grossed to date more than $1.1 billion worldwide; the last “Ice Age” film, Ice Age: The Meltdown, alone grossed more than $651 million worldwide; the record $1.8 billion box office gross from Cameron’s Titanic has never been approached since; and the original Night at the Museum took in $252 million domestically and an additional $323 million internationally and sold 15 million DVDs worldwide in its massively successful home video release.

Commented Hutch Parker, Vice Chairman of 20th Century Fox Film Group: “This is a win-win for us. ‘Avatar’ goes to the ‘Titanic’ date in December, which was obviously auspicious for Jim and us, and by the time of release there will be more worldwide 3D screens available. With ‘Ice Age 3′ now being made in 3D, its release in the summer will help further accelerate those 3D screens. ‘Night at the Museum 2′ is exactly the kind of all audience franchise that performs big on Memorial Day weekend. ‘Wolverine’ has the summer kick-off date and ‘Ice Age 3′ has July 4th, so even though 2009 is a long way away, we feel well set for four of the best launch dates of the year.”

Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian was written by Night at the Museum writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, with a re-write by Scott Frank. Levy will direct as well as produce through his 21 Laps Entertainment banner alongside Chris Columbus and his 1492 Productions. In addition to Stiller, the cast will be rounded out by many from the original film as well as several new characters from history. The centerpiece of the film will be bringing to life the Smithsonian Institution, which houses the world’s largest museum complex with more than 136 million items in its collections, ranging from the plane Amelia Earhart flew on her nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic and Al Capone’s rap sheet and mug shot to Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and Archie Bunker’s lounge chair. No major film has ever shot inside the Smithsonian in Washington…until Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian.

Additional casting on “Night at the Museum 2″ will be announced shortly.

Live action principal photography on Avatar will soon be completed on schedule in New Zealand, where Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning special effects house, Weta Digital (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), is concurrently incorporating the film’s new intuitive CGI technologies to transform the environments and characters into photorealistic 3D imagery.

Addressing the new Avatar date, Parker said: “The processes for the new photorealistic production technology invented by Jim’s team along with the digital effects by Weta are state-of-the-art and groundbreaking. Making this change more than two years out, allows Weta to achieve this unparalleled cinematic feat with the most efficient completion of the digital effects. This will also provide the added benefit of a larger installed base of 3D theatres in the U.S. and particularly around the world by the time of release. Finally, as the identical weekend used for ‘Titanic’ was available, it was the perfect time to release Jim’s next great epic.”

Avatar is written by Cameron from an idea he nurtured for more than a decade, while working on the technology necessary to realize this wholly imagined world. The film tells the story of an ex-Marine, thrust unwillingly into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in bio-diversity, who eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival.

Avatar is being produced by Cameron and Jon Landau for Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.

Ice Age 3 is the latest installment to the hit “Ice Age” franchise, which has grossed more than $1.2 billion around the world. Ice Age 3 will be directed by Oscar-nominated Carlos Saldanha, who directed Ice Age: The Meltdown and co-directed Ice Age. The film is being produced by Academy Award-winning Blue Sky Studios, which is the creative force behind all the “Ice Age” films, and the upcoming Horton Hears a Who, among others.

Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah and Dennis Leary are back onboard to voice the characters they made famous in the first two films: Manny, Diego, Ellie and Sid, respectively. More voice talent will be announced shortly. Ice Age 3 is being produced by Lori Forte and John Donkin from a script by Michael Berg and Peter Ackerman.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is set to star Jackman and will be directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition). The producers are Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter (who produced all three previous “X-Men” films), along with Jackman and his Seed Prods. producing partner, John Palermo. The film will be executive produced by Marvel Films’ Kevin Feige.

Leading up to the events of X-Men, X-Men Origins: Wolverine – written by David Benioff (The Kite Runner, Troy) – tells the story of Wolverine’s epically violent and romantic past, his complex relationship with Victor Creed, and the ominous Weapon X program. Along the way, Wolverine encounters many mutants, both familiar and new, including surprise appearances by several legends of the X-Men universe.

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