'Wolverine' bow delayed in Mexico

Studios waiting to see swine flu's impact on boxoffice

Hollywood went on high alert Monday for signs of whether swine flu might sicken the boxoffice, with the spreading epidemic already curtailing moviegoing in Mexico.

For now, industryites are simply in a watch-and-wait mode following reports of swine flu outbreaks in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. Certainly nobody expects any major adverse affect on Fox's global bow of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" this weekend.

"There isn't any Stateside impact yet," Fox domestic distribution president Bruce Snyder said.

Internationally, only Mexico is an immediate problem. The market was further disrupted Monday by an earthquake near Mexico City.

Touted as a potential $100 million domestic grosser during its first three days, "Wolverine" unspools virtually day-and-date in 101 international territories, with only Japan, India and Japan set for later bows. The Marvel Studios-produced pic had been scheduled to bow this weekend in Mexico, but its release there has been postponed -- possibly to May 14, though the date hasn't been finalized.

Mexico might normally be expected to contribute several million dollars to the worldwide opening of an event pic such as "Wolverine." But during the past few days, the country's top three exhibitors -- Cinepolis, Cinemex and Cinemark -- have temporarily closed dozens of theaters in the Mexico City area after widespread contagion in schools and elsewhere.

"Theaters are closed, and that's why we can't open the film," Fox co-president of international distribution Tomas Jegeus said. "It's that simple. But people are more than concerned in Mexico, and it would be stupid and irresponsible to open a film."

Closings last weekend included some lucrative venues, and grosses on pics took a big hit. Three-day receipts dropped 69% to $2.1 million, while Universal's "Fast & Furious" and Paramount-distributed "Monsters vs. Aliens" absorbed unusually big declines of 60% and 70%, respectively, in their fourth frames.

In other developments south of the border:

-- Fox Mexico postponed a scheduled Wednesday news conference with Hugh Jackman, who had been slated to tubthump for "Wolverine."

-- Mexico City-based David Distribucion -- which is handling distribution of Oliver Stone's "W." -- postponed the biopic's scheduled weekend release for at least a week.

-- Several film premieres and other media events have been postponed or canceled, with Mexico's suspected death toll from swine flu rising to 149.

In Washington, a spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners cautioned against any Stateside fear-mongering and said it would be premature to assume any U.S. impact from the spread of swine flu.

"We're monitoring all the government reports and encouraging our members to do the same," the spokesman said.

It's tough to see anything keeping "Wolverine" from dominating the domestic boxoffice this weekend. On Monday, online ticketer MovieTickets said more than 150 performances for "Wolverine" had sold out, including many midnight Thursday show times.

Carl DiOrio reported from Los Angeles; John Hecht reported from Mexico City.
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