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Universal and Fox Play Chess With ‘American Made,’ ‘Kingsman’ Sequel Release Dates

Colin Firth spy film chases Tom Cruise-Doug Liman project up and down the calendar

Cat and mouse games are typically played within action films — but in the case of two high-octane projects from Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox, it’s happening around them.

On Thursday, Universal announced that Doug Liman and Tom Cruise’s “American Made” would jump back one week from a planned opening of Sept. 29, 2017 to Sept. 22. The decision cleared the film from the path of a sequel to Colin Firth’s 2015 surprise hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

On Saturday morning, however, Fox moved “Kingsman” from Sept. 29 to Sept. 22, once again placing it head-to-head with “American Made.”

Nearly three hours after the Fox announcement, Universal called their bluff and shuffled “American Made” back to the original Sept. 29 date.

The initial move from Universal was not to avoid direct competition, an insider with knowledge of the studio’s thinking told TheWrap at the time, but rather an opportunity to land some coveted IMAX screens for the film in which Crusie plays a real-life TWA pilot and drug smuggler turned informant for the CIA.

The studio confirmed as much on Saturday afternoon, saying through a spokesperson that the latest date change “will continue to incorporate an element of IMAX into Universal Pictures’ release strategy.”

A spokesperson for 20th Century did not immediately return TheWrap’s request for comment.

Trepidation on the part of Universal would be understandable. The first “Kingsman” grossed nearly $415 million worldwide, and its sequel “The Golden Circle” reunites Firth and Taron Egerton with some added muscle from Channing Tatum.

“Made,” on the other hand, reteams Cruise and Liman after the well-reviewed but under-performing 2014 Warner Bros. film “Edge of Tomorrow.” The futuristic thriller took in $100 million domestically on a reported $180 million budget, but did recoup internationally to the tune of $270 million.

The new film, formerly titled “Mena,” grabbed international headlines in 2015 when an aircraft carrying crew members crashed on location in Colombia. The wreck left two dead and a third injured.

The date shuffling rings competitive at a time when the studio establishment seems overly chummy, as they collectively attempt to mollify American theater exhibitors, mitigate pressure to collapse release windows and compete with deep-pocketed streaming services for talent and product.

But it’s not show friends — it’s show business.