Mexico still recovering from the flu

Says one distrib, 'The only medicine is time.'

The first batch of summer tentpoles may have a hard time making up for lost B.O. revenues in Mexico after their launches were delayed because of the swine flu and consequent theater closures.

It’s not that theater traffic hasn’t resumed, or that movies aren’t seeing solid returns, but as one intl. distributor says, “the only medicine is time.”

Theater owners and distributors essentially lost the first three weeks of May, between dark movie houses and then a series of restrictions imposed when theaters reopened.

For a short period of time, some Mexico City theaters required every customer coming through the door to sanitize his hands, creating long, winding lines. Initially, the government said movie patrons everywhere would have to sit seven feet apart from one another, but when exhibitors complained, the rule became a recommendation only.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was to have opened in Mexico at the same time it bowed everywhere else on May 1.

But Fox had to scrub those plans, setting off a domino effect that saw nearly every tentpole’s release date shifted.

Sony’s “Angels and Demons” was the first tentpole out of the gate in Mexico, debuting on May 22. Film opened stronger than anyone expected under the circumstances and has grossed $10 million to date.

“I think everyone was desperate to get out and do something,” one international distribution exec said of the pic’s impressive showing.

But theater traffic likely hasn’t returned to previous levels.

“The Da Vinci Code” cumed $19.2 million in Mexico, but “Angels” won’t hit near that level. Mexico, however, isn’t the only territory where the sequel will do less.

“Wolverine” opened May 29 in Mexico, one week after “Angels.” Film has grossed $7.4 million to date. That’s good enough to put Mexico at No. 10 on the list of top territories for “Wolverine.”

Mexico’s haul for “X-Men: The Last Stand,” however, was $16.5 million — the third best of any territory. Studio insiders say “Wolverine” is running at 80% of “Last Stand’s” B.O. perf.

In addition to the problems caused by the flu, “Wolverine’s” Mexico haul was likely hurt by the leak of a pirated copy onto the Internet a month before the film’s opening.

“Wolverine” is still early in its run in Mexico, but the problem now is an overcrowded marquee created by the reshuffling.

Last weekend, Paramount’s “Star Trek” opened in Mexico after being pushed back from June 8. Pic debuted to $1.1 million, putting it at No. 4 for the frame. The “Star Trek” franchise has never been popular in Mexico, so the film’s soft debut wasn’t unexpected.

Also opening was Disney-Pixar’s 3-D toon “Up,” which debuted in Mexico to a strong $3.4 million. “Up” was always supposed to open in Mexico on June 5, so its media campaign wasn’t disrupted as were those of the previous films.

This weekend, Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” opens in Mexico (originally, pic was set to debut day and date in Mexico on May 22).

Theater exhibs and distribs are hoping that the marketplace is evening out after its disruption. Box office observers predict that “Battle of the Smithsonian” will sport a big opening gross.

Family titles do huge business in Mexico; the first “Night at the Museum” cumed $20.4 million in the country, the fifth best of any territory outside the U.S.

On Tuesday, “Night at the Museum” franchise star Ben Stiller was in Mexico City to promote the sequel. During a press conference, he was queried as to why he allegedly used sanitizing gel on his hands after speaking with reporters from Mexico at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Stiller said it was a misunderstanding, and that he’d be happy to meet with Mexico President Felipe Calderon to express his support for how the government handled the flu outbreak.

“Maybe he can give me a job,” Stiller quipped.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)