HOLLYWOOD (Variety) – Based on stellar early screenings, Sony has opted to open “Black Hawk Down” for a limited Oscar qualifying run Dec. 28.

The Ridley Scott-directed military actioner will open in two theaters in both L.A. and New York before expanding to 2,500 screens on Jan. 18. It initially was penciled in for fall, but then got bumped to March and again to January. One challenge in scheduling the picture has been its subject matter, which was sticky even before Sept. 11.

The picture, which stars Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor and Eric Bana, details the disastrous U.S. military mission in Somalia that resulted in the deaths of 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis. It’s based on a book by Mark Bowden.

The schedule shift restores some punch to a December slate that has seen the exit of Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” and an opt-out by “The Road to Perdition,” starring Tom Hanks. Universal’s “A Beautiful Mind,” starring Russell Crowe, also moved to a limited bow before widening in January.

Sony’s Will Smith vehicle “Ali,” which just slid back to Christmas Day, remains the most awaited wide launch in December’s final week.