Two films of special interest to specialty store retailers (see 'The Swami Looks At Movies in 2001) have had their release dates changed.  Universal Studios has moved the release date of The Mummy Returns up one week from May 11th to May 4th.   The Mummy Returns is the first real 'summer' movie of the year -- and the start of the 'summer movie season' which used to begin on Memorial Day weekend at the end of May has been moving steadily backwards.  Last year Gladiator was the first 'summer' blockbuster to debut, establishing itself well before Memorial Day and doing land office business before it had to face any stiff competition.


Universal says that it is moving The Mummy Returns up based on the enthusiastic reaction to preview screenings.  Though it will have competition from Fox's Moulin Rouge and Warner's The Heist when it opens on May 4th, The Mummy Returns will have a couple of weeks to strut its stuff relatively unimpeded before Dreamwork's Shrek (May 18) and Disney's Pearl Harbor (May 25) open.  Original stars Brandon Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo will reprise their roles from The Mummy, which earned $415 million worldwide in 1999 -- and they are joined by the WWF's main man, The Rock, who makes his big screen debut as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns.


Last year Hollywood was saved from the effects of a lackluster summer by a very strong fourth quarter driven by The Grinch, Meet the Parents, and Castaway, so naturally the final two months of 2001 are loaded with potential blockbusters including the Harry Potter movie and the first film in the highly anticipated The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In order to avoid going head-to-head with Harry Potter, Disney has moved the launch of its computer-generated Monsters, Inc. up from Thanksgiving weekend to Nov. 2nd.   Monsters, Inc. is being produced by Pixar, the studio that created Toy Story I and II, both of which did extremely well with fall releases.


Anything which spaces out the major movie blockbusters and provides longer windows for these films to remain in the public eye and near the top of the box office charts works to the benefit of retailers who sell licensed merchandise.  The changes announced by Universal and Disney this week should help to do this, though the schedule for the films of 2001 is still likely to change as studios jockey for the opening date that will allow their blockbusters to open in the top spot and stay there for as long as possible.