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Studios delay several big films in Mexico for flu

 Actors Ayelet Zurer (L) and Tom Hanks are shown in a scene from the Columbia Pictures film
Actors Ayelet Zurer (L) and Tom Hanks are shown in a scene from the Columbia Pictures film 'Angels & Demons' in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters April 28, 2009. Times are tough and getting tougher, and as the summer movie season's first half launches on Friday, Hollywood is banking on escapist fare and fantasy flicks to cheer recession-weary audiences. To match feature FILM-SUMMERMOVIES/ REUTERS/Zade Rosenthal/Columbia Pictures/Handout
— image credit: Reuters

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Several major Hollywood studios are delaying the release of big-budget summer movies in Mexico due to the influenza outbreak in that country, a key market for U.S. films, the distributors said on Thursday.

Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group announced a four-week postponement in Mexico of the religious thriller "Angels & Demons," starring Tom Hanks, from May 15 to June 12, and said it will push back "Terminator Salvation" by eight weeks, from June 5 to July 31, because of the swine flu situation.

"We have been closely monitoring the situation in Mexico all week and we continue to be extremely concerned about this health crisis and its impact on the people who live there," the Sony Corp-owned studio said in a statement.

Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc also plans to indefinitely postpone its Mexico release of "Star Trek," and 20th Century Fox, owned by News Corp, said earlier this week it would delay its Mexico opening of the superhero adventure "Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman.

Public health officials have ordered all movie theaters in Mexico City closed to help contain the virus in the capital. Mexico's government also has asked bars, restaurants and other public establishments and workplaces to shut down throughout the country, but it is not clear how many have complied.

Mexico has been the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak, which has claimed as many as 176 lives there since it emerged last month. The disease, which the World Health Organization has renamed influenza A (H1N1), affects people and not pigs.

The delays come as Hollywood heads into the lucrative summer moviegoing season, which accounts for 30 to 40 percent of annual box office receipts, with studios set to launch some of their most anticipated big-event films of the year.

Mexico ranks as one of the top 10 movie markets outside the United States and typically represents 5 percent or 6 percent of worldwide film grosses. So studios stand to lose millions of dollars in revenues if their summer schedules end up severely disrupted by the flu outbreak in Mexico.

Studio executives said distributors were hopeful the flu crisis will have largely waned over the next several weeks, in time to salvage much of Mexico's summer film release schedule.

"The highly anticipated films of the summer will still be highly anticipated when they are released in Mexico," one insider told Reuters.

One of the year's most eagerly awaited movies -- "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth installment in the blockbuster series based on J.K. Rowling's wildly popular books about a boy wizard -- remains slated, for now, to open as planned in Mexico in mid-July, said a spokeswoman for Warner Bros. Pictures, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

But Warner has delayed its upcoming romantic comedy, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," from May 8 to June 12."

"Obviously it's a fluid situation, so it all depends on what's going on," the spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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