Marvel delays 'Thor,' 'Avengers'

Move ensures 2012 tentpole, runway for 'Avengers'

Marvel's moviemaking mojo just got s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d.

Sony on Thursday set "Spider-Man 4" for release on May 6, 2011, while co-producer Marvel Studios locked into later slots than previously announced for three other comic-book actioners. As a result of the changes, Marvel pics will launch on the first weekend of May and kick off the boxoffice summer in three straight years, starting with "Iron Man 2" on May 7, 2010.

The moves also get Marvel off the hook of a commitment to produce two pics for release next year -- a pledge always considered a bit overambitious in some quarters.

Among key date changes, Marvel will delay "Thor" by almost a year -- shifting its release to June 17, 2011, from the previously announced July 16, 2010 -- and moved "The First Avenger: Captain America" to July 22, 2011, from the previously announced May 6, 2011, which it has ceded to "Spider-Man 4."

Marvel also postponed the release of "The Avengers" until May 4, 2012, from a previous July 15, 2011, slot. "Avengers" is positioned last among its upcoming pics so that characters figuring in the ensemble-superheroes action including Thor and Captain America can be introduced with their own movies.

Marvel will finance its own productions in full and release most films through Paramount, which handled last year's smash "Iron Man."

"This new schedule strongly sequences Marvel's movie debut dates, big-screen character introductions and momentum," Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel said. "It maximizes the visibility of our single-character-focused films, leading to the highly anticipated release of the multicharacter 'The Avengers.' "

From a corporate perspective, the moves mean Marvel will spread its boxoffice wealth more evenly throughout upcoming fiscal years. Warner Bros. was similarly motivated when it switched its "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" from a 2008 holiday release slot to this July 17.

From a production standpoint, the changes ease the burden of casting and shooting two 2010 titles. On Wednesday, Marvel said it has signed Mickey Rourke to play a villain in "Iron Man 2" after protracted negotiations.

Speaking on Thursday at the Gabelli & Co. Movie Conference in New York, Marvel Entertainment vice chairman Peter Cuneo said the Marvel Studios remains committed to producing two pics per year eventually.

"Our goal is to have at least two of our films every year," Cuneo said. For now, the schedule shifts will help Marvel's next few pics maximize profits, he added.

Wall Street reaction to the moves was modestly negative. Marvel shares fell 55 cents, or 2%, to $24 amid an upbeat broader market Thursday.

In research note, analyst Drew Crum of investment firm Stifel Nicolaus set a "hold" rating on Marvel shares, based in part on the likelihood of reduce 2010 earnings following the postponement of "Thor."

No rival titles are set yet for the various Marvel dates. Competition is likely to be relatively light -- and of the counterprogramming variety -- considering the tentpole nature of the Marvel pics.

Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.