By Stephen M. Silverman
October 18, 2002 01:00 PM

Leonardo DiCaprio, who was to have two competing movies opening on Christmas day, will now have just one, “Catch Me If You Can.” That’s because the studio behind his other movie, “Gangs of New York,” agreed to open it earlier in December, to reduce the competition.

So when will “Gangs” open? A mere five days before Christmas, reports Friday’s New York Times.

“It’s not ideal,” admitted DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose company is releasing “Catch Me,” “but it’s better than opening on the same day.”

But as Rick Sands, CEO of Miramax, which is behind the $100-million-plus “Gangs,” told The Times: “We believe it will be enough time to allow both films to stand on their own.”

Not that the movies have much in common, besides their leading man. “Catch Me” is a chase comedy directed by Steven Spielberg and costarring Tom Hanks as an FBI agent on the trail of a high-living high school student and master impostor (DiCaprio). “Gangs,” directed by Martin Scorsese and costarring Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz, is a sweeping period epic.

Digging deeper into the release-date controversy, the Hollywood Reporter quotes Miramax’s Sands as saying that the Dec. 20 opening date for “Gangs” “made the most sense” for a very good reason: to avoid the real holiday competition.

As the trade paper notes, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” opens Dec. 18, and “Star Trek: Nemesis” blasts off Dec. 13.