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20th Century Fox has been busy nailing down its 2009 slate during the writers strike, and it sounds like a block of sure things. (Then again, that’s how it always starts. Then later I write about what went incredibly well and horribly wrong.)

avatar1.JPGDates for Jim Cameron’s Avatar, Night Of the Museum 2 and Ice Age 3 are now set, joining X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That’s four major 2009 tentpoles for Fox.

Mega-hit Night At The Museum 2 is subtitled, Escape From The Smithsonian (not hard to figure oyt that plot, eh?) and again stars Ben Stiller directed by Shawn Levy. The sequel to the pic that earned $575 million worldwide debuts on May 22, 2009 during Memorial Day weekend, which was when Avatar was supposed to open. But now Fox has given Cameron a later release date “just in case” the technology becomes even more time-consuming than expected. So now Avatar fittingly opens on Titanic‘s old release date, December 18th. Blue Sky Studios and Fox Animation reteam for Ice Age 3 to be produced in 3D same as Avatar and released July 1st. X-Men Origins: Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman goes out May 1st.

museum1.jpgI love the upbeat exec quotes that usually accompany these kinds of announcements. “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.’ ”

“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.’ ”