Swine flu causes Paramount to freeze release

Paramount is calling off the May 8 launch of “Star Trek” in Mexico because of the swine flu epidemic, while Sony is debating whether to do the same with sequel “Angels and Demons.”

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” will open day and date in other major territories May 8.

“Angels,” the follow-up to “The Da Vinci Code,” is opening around the world May 15.

Twentieth Century Fox was the studio most immediately impacted by the outbreak of the flu in Mexico, since “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is opening day and date Friday. Studio’s international team made the decision over the weekend to cancel the opening of “Wolverine” in Mexico, along with the premiere.

The tricky part now will be deciding when to open the films without inviting too much competition.

And no one’s sure when the situation will improve. Mexico City has virtually shut down, including cinemas. Circuits also are closing theaters in other Mexican cities.

Mexico saw good results for the “X-Men” franchise and also drove plenty of business for “Da Vinci Code.”

Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the previous installment, saw its third-best territory gross — $16.5 million — in Mexico. Pic cumed $225 million internationally and $234.4 million domestically.

Mexico also made the top 10 list of highest-grossing territories for “Da Vinci Code,” at $19.3 million. Film grossed a boffo $540.7 million internationally and $217.5 million in North America.

If the situation improves in Mexico, Fox could open “Wolverine” in two weeks. At the same time, the studio might be loathe to go up against “Angels and Demons” if Sony sticks to the May 15 date.

Like Fox and Sony, Paramount is continuing to monitor the situation, and has not yet set another date for the debut of “Star Trek.”

One reason for delaying the launches is that studios don’t want to make huge media spends in the final days before a film’s release and then have to cancel on the eve of the opening.

Fox could even decide to push back the May 22 release of “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” in Mexico when coming up with a new plan for “Wolverine.”

So far, studios don’t believe the flu epidemic will affect moviegoing in other territories, including the U.S. and Canada. There have been no deaths outside Mexico.

“Wolverine” is expected to do big business in its debut. The winter and spring have seen record-breaking grosses at the domestic box office, with admissions up both domestically and internationally.

Universal’s “Fast and Furious” won at the international box office for the April 24-26 weekend, grossing $15.9 million in its fourth sesh for a foreign cume of $170.9 million and a worldwide total of $316.7 million (domestic cume is $145.8 million). Film far outperformed expectations.

DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s 3-D toon “Monsters vs. Aliens” likewise continued its strong overseas run, grossing $10.7 million for the weekend for a foreign cume of $142.9 million and a world total of $318.2 million (domestic total is $175.3 million).

“Fast” and “Monsters” are the two top foreign earners of 2009.

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