Two Columbus movies to duel -- Big-budget productions will use star power for historical blockbusters

Will anyone want to see two movies about Christopher Columbus? Probably not, but that isn’t stopping financier Alain Goldman and the team of Alex and Ilya Salkind (Superman) from moving ahead with simultaneous big-budget productions about the explorer. Each begins filming next September and each is scheduled to coincide with the quincentennial of Columbus’ first voyage.

Goldman’s Christopher Columbus, budgeted at $36 million, will star Gérard Depardieu in the title role and Sean Connery, under director Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise). Salkind’s Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, at $50 million, is slated to star the current 007, Timothy Dalton, with direction by George P. Cosmatos (Rambo) from a Mario Puzo script. Most industry sources are predicting that only one of the two will get made.

At the moment, Goldman seems to have the advantage. Paramount Pictures announced last month that it will distribute his film in the U.S., a major coup for the production, and overseas distribution deals are being firmed up. Salkind’s movie was supposed to be distributed in the U.S. by Universal, but the studio now seems to be hedging its bets. One industry observer says, ”I’m sure that Universal is concerned about the financing. And they’re not exactly blown away by the script.”

While Salkind claims his film is ”fully financed” and will shoot in September, one insider says, ”It’s simply too dangerous to move ahead on a $50 million movie without a U.S. distributor. The bank won’t allow it.” He predicts, ”Whichever film begins shooting first will win; the other one will just drop out.” Ironically, the Salkind movie is the more mass-market version of the Columbus saga, with an accent on heroism and adventure. Goldman’s more ambitious film, from a script by journalist Roselynne Bosch, would span all four of Columbus’ voyages to the West Indies, covering his failures as well as his triumphs. And you thought it was big deal when he proved the world wasn’t flat.