‘H20’ spooks ‘Virus’

Fearing hyped sequel, U moves big pic to '99

Universal Pictures has moved its costly action pic “Virus” out of August and into the first quarter of 1999, leaving the studio without a major summer release.

U’s only summer pics are now the David Zucker comedy “BASEketball,” starring Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and the Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller “Out of Sight,” starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, which opens today.

U’s move appears to be sparked, at least in part, by Dimension Films’ decision to open its highly hyped “Halloween: H20” Aug. 5. While “Virus” had been scheduled to come out Aug. 14, the two pics share the same female lead — Jamie Lee Curtis — and both are targeting a core audience of young males.

Distribs have been bailing out of “H20’s” path so fast you’d think it was they, not Curtis’ character, Laurie Strode, who were being chased by the knife-wielding Michael Myers.

MGM already has brought its teen thriller “Disturbing Behavior” — which plays to an identical demographic as “H20” — forward by two weeks to July 22. And Morgan Creek has moved its Leslie Nielsen comedy “Wrongfully Accused” from Aug. 7 to Aug. 21.

In all, at least three pics have shifted since Dimension boss Bob Weinstein claimed the weekend of Aug. 7 as his own.

“Virus,” which is based on a book from Dark Horse Comics, co-stars Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin. Pic is about the crew of an American tugboat who board a top-secret Russian research vessel and find it infected by an alien life form.

U’s partner on “Virus” is Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn’s Mutual Film Co., which holds foreign distribution rights. Sources estimated that the budget of the pic, which was produced by Gale Anne Hurd and directed by veteran visual effects supervisor John Bruno, was at least $50 million.

The target audience of both “Virus” and “H20” is similar to that of several other pics due out in early August, such as Para-mount’s Nicolas Cage-starrer “Snake Eyes,” Warner Bros.’ “The Negotiator” and “The Avengers,” and New Line Cinema’s “Blade.”

Morgan Creek, which distributes its films via WB, said it was not moving “Accused” because of the strong word of mouth on “H20.” The “Fugitive” spoof will now open opposite Paramount’s college comedy “Dead Man on Campus.” Morgan Creek said it believed that its pic will perform well based on Nielsen’s following and will play to all age groups.

U execs could not be reached, and Dimension had no comment.