January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Okay, so the real gamble may be EW betting that Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut — which has been put on hold more times than Corey Feldman’s agent — will actually debut July 16. But for argument’s sake, consider the task that now confronts Warner Bros. It has to sell the difficult, sexually charged, labyrinthine psychodrama (Eyes is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s obscure 1926 Freudian novel Traumnovelle) to a summer moviegoing crowd at the height of an already crowded popcorn season. How does the studio make sure the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman movie isn’t steamrolled by more inviting fare, including Warner’s own Wild Wild West, which is opening two weeks earlier? Experts say the trick will be to stress that this is a Tom Cruise movie. ”Cruise changes the rules,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. ”When you combine his audience with Kidman’s and Kubrick’s, you realize this film has as good a chance as any in that time period to do big business.” Nancy Kirkpatrick, senior VP of publicity for Warner, cites the summer of ’98 as her inspiration: ”Look, Private Ryan was hugely successful in July. We’ll leave a couple of weeks [for] Wild West, but we anticipate both films having huge audiences.” But why not an October berth for such an Oscar-friendly director? ”Stanley helped pick [the date]! We’re not concerned about that at all,” exults Kirkpatrick. Well, that makes one of us.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Eyes does for obscure Freudian dream novels what Private Ryan did for D-Day.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Kubrick misses his release date — punctuality not being his strong suit — and Eyes opens July 23, where it promptly gets knocked out by Muppets in Space.

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