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Hollywood studios pull movies and mull release date changes in Japan

March 14, 2011 |  2:51 pm

In the wake of the tsunami tragedy in Japan, Hollywood studios are reassessing release dates for numerous movies in the world's largest film market outside of the United States.

As Japan copes with the aftermath of the tragedy in the weeks and months to come, it could have ongoing implications for Hollywood. Japan generated $2.5 billion in box office receipts last year, $700 million more than the No. 2 foreign movie market, France. Though Japan has become increasingly less important for American studios, with locally-made films taking a larger share of grosses, four of the top 10 releaes in 2010 still came from Hollywood, including "Alice in Wonderland," "Toy Story 3," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1" and "Resident Evil: Afterlife."

Hollywood studios are undoubtedly counting on Japan to play an important role in the success of their big budget summer tentpoles such as "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Green Lantern," and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

"Japan remains one of the biggest markets outside of the United States and we will have to wait and see how badly damaged theaters are," said Paul Hanneman, co-president of 20th Century Fox International.

The short-term impact is clear. Walt Disney Studios' animated "Tangled," the only American movie to debut in Japan this week, opened to a weak $1.75 million, according to a person with access to box office data (a Disney spokesman did not respond to requests for comment). Fox's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which has racked up a strong $19 million in Japan, saw receipts drop 66%.

In response, several upcoming releases may see their release dates in Japan change. Warner Bros. has already pulled the Anthony Hopkins supernatural drama "The Rite," set to open Friday, and will reschedule it for a later date. Sony Pictures distribution president Rory Bruer confirmed that the studio is considering moving the date of its disaster movie "Battle: Los Angeles," which is supposed to debut April 1 in Japan. The movie features the destruction of L.A.'s Pacific coastline in an alien invasion -- scenes that could prove upsetting in Japan.

Warner Bros. pulled Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” from theaters, as it opens with a graphic sequence depicting the destruction waged by a Southeast Asian tsunami.

Box office receipts this past weekend dropped 52% compared with the previous weekend as approximately 110 theaters in Tokyo and Northern Japan out of 680 nationwide were shut down, according to a studio executive who did not want to be named. Even at theaters open for business, far fewer people than usual were interested in going, the executive said.

-- Ben Fritz and Amy Kaufman