He could've been a contender.

Universal Pictures has decided to postpone the release of Russell Crowe's upcoming boxing drama, Cinderella Man from this coming Dec. 17 to March 18, 2005 to give the studio more time to finish the movie and launch an effective campaign, the studio confirmed Friday.

"It wasn't so much marketing," says a Universal rep. "In order to have a movie by this year, it would literally be delivered wet to the theaters...It would've been very tight [timing] in terms of editing and the whole post-production process."

That means Cinderella will not be eligible for next year's Oscar ball, but will instead have to wait until the 2006 contest.

Shooting on Cinderella Man was initially supposed to commence in March but was delayed to April 19 after its star dislocated his shoulder in January while training for the role of real-life fighter Jim Braddock. Crowe is now recovering from orthopedic surgery and undergoing physical rehabilitation.

Universal says that aiming for a December release would have cut the production schedule from 11 to eight months--not the way you want to go about prepping an Oscar bait flick, especially now that the Academy Award season is about a month shorter than in the past.

"It's not enough time to really work the movie the way it deserves to be worked," the studio rep says. "It puts a lot of pressure on the movie when you're so focused on getting it in time for awards instead of focusing it for an overall campaign."

Cinderella Man tells the true tale of how Braddock became a legend after winning a vicious 15-round match against reigning heavyweight champion Max Baer in 1935 during the height of the Great Depression.

The film reteams Crowe with the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind triumvirate of director-producer Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. Yet another Oscar owner, Renée Zellweger, is on board to play Crowe's wife.

The flick will be produced by Howard and Grazer's Imagine Entertainment. Universal will cofinance the movie with Miramax.

Universal isn't fretting about its chances despite the March target date, which is months before the holiday season when rival studios traditionally unleash their own Oscar hopefuls.

"It's a great date for a movie, we can own that date and that could look good for us," the studio spokesperson says.

The studio points to the example of 2000's Erin Brockovich, which also came out in March before going on to major box-office grosses and snagging Julia Roberts a Best Actress Academy Award, and Gladiator, which debuted in May of that year and went on to Oscar glory, including wins for Best Picture and Crowe for Best Actor.

Another example: The Silence of the Lambs, which premiered on Valentine's Day 1991 and had to wait over a year before sweeping the top Oscar prizes.

With Cinderella Man out of next year's awards picture, the crop of contenders just got a little smaller.

While Lord of the Rings is played out, major holiday players will include Martin Scorsese's The Aviator for Warner Bros. and James L. Brooks' Spanglish for Sony Pictures.

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