It's somewhat amazing to realize that the release calendar for March 2017 is now complete with four different tent poles.  The next (and potentially final) "Wolverine" is slated for March 3,* Legendary Pictures will bring forth their version of the King of the Apes in "Kong: Skull Island" on March 10, "Divergent" will end its cinematic run with "The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 2" on March 24 and, surprise, Walt Disney Pictures' live action "Beauty and the Beast" will now open on March 17.  Can you guess which one will garner the most attention?  

*A Hugh Jackman movie opening less than two weeks after the Oscars? It didn't work for "Chappie," but, boy that would be an incredibly convenient time for him to host again, wouldn't it?

On Monday, Walt Disney Studios confirmed "Beauty's" release date and the impressive cast which had leaked to the press over the past few months.  Emma Watson will play Belle, Dan Stevens will portray the Beast, Luke Evans is on board as Gaston (slightly older than we would have thought, but we'll go with it), Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts and Kevin Kline will play Belle's father, Maurice.  Josh Gad had been rumored as Le Fou, but the studio did not include the "Frozen" star in their announcement.  Curiously, there is still no word on who will get to have the honor of singing "Be Our Guest" as Lumiere, but with production slated to start in May they have a few months to figure it out (Can Jean Dujardin sing? Could be perfect, non?).

Oscar winner Bill Condon, who appears back on track based on the early reviews of "Mr. Holmes," will direct and if you aren't aware of how important his contributions to "Chicago" were or how freaking amazing "Dreamgirls" truly is than you don't read me enough or follow me on twitter (he also just earned critical acclaim for his re-staging of "Sideshow" on Broadway late last year).  Condon will follow an adapted screenplay from "The Perks of A Wallflower's" Stephen Chbosky and none other than Mr. Alan Menken will be on hand to score the film. The eight-time Oscar winner's songs from the original 1991 animated classic will be included as well as a few new showstoppers.  So, it might be slated for March 2017, but you can already put this one down as a player in the 2018 Oscar Best Original Song race (at a minimum).

With a May start date you may wonder: "Why isn't it coming out in March 2016?"  Well, Walt Disney Animated Studios already has "Zootopia" on deck that month and there's a little movie called "Batman V Superman: Dawn for Justice" likely to suck up a lot of attention as well.  It also goes without saying that the Disney machine needs some time getting ready for this one.  "Cinderella" opened to a fantastic $67.8 million over the weekend, but have you checked out all the movie-related merchandise in stores?  Has your daughter or niece asked you to replace her Anna or Elsa dress with a replica of Cinderella's ball gown yet?  You just can't whip that up with a magic wand and by the time the new "Beauty and the Beast" arrives Disney merchandising will be in full effect.

Beyond the business aspect, however, it will be intriguing to see how much Condon can imprint his own vision on a live action "Beauty." Remove the slightly nauseating cutesy animals and Kenneth Brangah was able to tweak things enough to surprise many with his specific take on the “Cinderella” tale.  Living up to the more recent animated “Beast” film is a much tougher task, but something tells us Condon and his crew have some surprises of their own in store for moviegoers.

Anyone ready to begin the two-year countdown?

"Beauty and the Beast" opens nationwide and in 3D on March 17, 2017.

With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios and has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times. A co-founder of HitFix, Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.