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Summit Entertainment
Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich are three of the stars in “Red 2,” which opens this weekend.

Thrillers playing box office chicken

Universal Pictures
Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds headline Universal Pictures’ “R.I.P.D.” as it opens today.

– Scheduling the release of a summer movie isn’t exactly a science. It clearly isn’t an art, either. It’s more akin to a contact sport: Seize the advantageous position, sustain as little damage as possible and score.

All of which makes this weekend’s opening of both “Red 2” and “R.I.P.D.” a little like sacking your own quarterback. Both films are action-thrillers. Both are about over-age law enforcers (in “R.I.P.D.,” some are so old, they’re dead). And both make a virtue of their, shall we say, mature stars.

Those stars include Bruce Willis (58), Anthony Hopkins (75), John Malkovich (59) and Helen Mirren (67) in “Red 2” and Jeff Bridges (63) and Kevin Bacon (55) in “R.I.P.D.,” which, by the way, stands for “Rest in Peace Department.”

It may not make a huge difference at the box office, but both films also feature the less-than-prolific Mary-Louise Parker, who has a solid base among discriminating male viewers but is better known for her work in cable TV’s “Weeds.”

Add to all this the fact that Robert Schwentke, the director of Universal’s “R.I.P.D.,” had directed the original “Red” of 2010 from Summit Entertainment and for whatever reason (Schwentke didn’t want to talk about it) lost the sequel to director Dean Parisot.

Assuming there’s no ill will involved, that’s a lot of coincidence, said distribution consultant Richard Abramowitz, who teaches film production at New York University and runs the film company Abramorama. “It seems like too big a mistake to be a mistake.”

But the “Red 2”/“R.I.P.D.” collision may simply be a symptom of the state of Hollywood. There have been very few weekends since May that haven’t been dominated by a big-budget, major-studio release – .

Tellingly, when studios chose to expand a debut weekend with a weekday opening – “Iron Man 3” was on a Thursday; “Star Trek Into Darkness” was on a Wednesday – a rash of movies seemed to rush in to fill the Friday void.

But the idea that studios have that kind of flexibility in picking a release date is really a fallacy: Releases are set as early as possible, sometimes even during pre-production, and when a film of a certain stature grabs a date, everyone else starts jockeying for position.

And there are only so many positions.

So if the studios behind “Reds 2” and “R.I.P.D.” were trying to put their movies into the summer season, this was probably the first weekend they could find without a gigantic, globally recognized title in place.

“R.I.P.D.” had already announced a July 19 release when Summit parent Lionsgate decided to move “Red 2” onto that same date, Universal spokeswoman Kori Bernards said. “You’ll have to ask them what that was about.”

Lionsgate had no comment for this story, but insiders say both Lionsgate and Universal seem to have realized their movies had a better chance against each other, despite having to share the same older audience, than against a blockbuster like “The Wolverine,” for instance. And neither one of the films was big enough to scare the other off the date.