Bob Yari and Oliver Stone are locked in a race to bring their rival Pablo Escobar projects about the infamous Colombian drug lord to the screen.

Both projects are being sold at AFM in Santa Monica and reportedly registering strong interest ahead of their potential pre-strike shoots in early 2008.

In one lane is Yari Film Group's $40-50m Killing Pablo, a five-year labour of love for Yari and Joe Carnahan based on Mark Bowden's book Killing Pablo: The Hunt For The World's Greatest Outlaw.

The action-oriented project was initially set up at Paramount with Tom Cruise to star, but Yari re-acquired the rights after it went into turnaround and installed Javier Bardem as the kingpin and Christian Bale as the leader of the US Delta Force squad sent to Colombia to kill Escobar in 1993.

Yari is scouting for locations and has tentatively set a March 2008 start date. The company hopes Carnahan will make Killing Pablo his priority in the wake of George Clooney's departure from his James Ellroy adaptation White Jazz.

Carnahan hinted that Killing Pablo might be his priority when he said on his blog this week: 'I don't know that, given the current climate of competing Escobar
tales, I can afford to wait.' Yari's sales chief David Glasser reported heavy interest in the project.

Should the start date get pushed back, Bardem would have to exit the project because of his commitment to The Weinstein Company's musical Nine. Yari has reportedly lined up an A-list replacement should that happen, and sources at the company stressed that Bale will remain regardless of the start date.

Lining up against Killing Pablo is Escobar, J2 Productions' low-$40m project that will be produced by Oliver Stone and directed by Antoine Fuqua and is being sold here by Jere Hausfater's Essential Entertainment.

Edgar Ramirez is in final talks to star as Escobar. Hausfater has been showing buyers David McKenna's re-write of Hakim Quest's draft adaptation of Escobar's brother Robert's more personal novel Mi Hermano Pablo and said yesterday that buyers were 'going crazy over it.'

The project is set to go in late February/early March 2008 in Puerto Rico.

A third project from Hannibal Pictures, also called Escobar, is being pre-sold here.