''Titanic,'' ''Tomorrow Never Dies,'' and ''The Mask of Zorro'' are making the holiday movie season highly anticipated

When Paramount announced that the $200 million Titanic had moved from July to Dec. 19, some took it as good news. Especially Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, whose Men in Black now is expected to dominate the July 4 weekend. But the winter holidays are looking less jolly for the pack of expensive contenders already set to open on Titanic‘s new date. The lineup includes three high-profile sequels — United Artists’ James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, Fox’s Culkin-free Home Alone 3, and Miramax’s Scream follow-up — as well as TriStar’s Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas.

MGM marketing exec Gerry Rich is unfazed, insisting, ”Christmas isn’t like the summer. There aren’t as many prized weekends — it’s unlikely any one movie is going to sit out there alone.” But another exec doubts the wisdom of opening the epic love story a week before Christmas: ”The older female audience is distracted until 12:01 a.m. Christmas Day.” Paramount motion-picture vice chairman Rob Friedman counters, ”We have a movie that’s strong enough to open anytime.”

No word yet on whether other studios will move to make way for the new competition. For now, the approximately 6,000 trailers promising Titanic soon or this summer are being recalled. They just don’t hold water anymore.

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