Robin Hood meets his match (and it's not the Sheriff of Nottingham)

Wayne Rooney and his fleet-footed squad of England players are set to take on the dashing celluloid hero Robin Hood and his band of merry men, in a competition that pitches film industry executives against football fans.

Concern is high within Hollywood that World Cup fever, which is expected to grip most of Europe between 11 June and 11 July, will undermine box office sales at a time traditionally regarded as high season for cinemas.

In an effort to avoid an adverse impact on European and international sales, some American film studios are holding their movies back or releasing them earlier outside the US to avoid interest in the World Cup. The 30 days in which the tournament is due to be staged in South Africa are usually the busiest for theatrical releases. But studios have learnt just how greatly audiences can be distracted by major sporting events: cinema admissions slipped by 5 per cent in Britain when Germany hosted the most recent World Cup in 2006.

Studios usually open their films in America to generate a buzz before they move to Europe, but not this summer for many. Paramount took the extraordinary step of opening Iron Man 2 in a handful of European and international countries on Wednesday, a week before its US release on 7 May.

Disney will begin its international run of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time nine days before its 28 May opening in the US, and Universal is launching Ridley Scott's blockbuster Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, at the Cannes Film Festival in France on 12 May, the same day as its US release.

Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, international distribution president at Warner Bros, said: "In the football-crazy countries, theatre admissions are down dramatically on the days of the games, and event movies that need a male audience suffer."

Paramount International's Andrew Cripps said the change in international release times would "give us an even longer period before the World Cup". Mark Batey, chief executive of the Film Distributor's Association in Britain, said: "With many of these tournaments, [studios] work their releases around the sporting schedules. They know the dates for tournaments well ahead and take them into consideration."

But some studios refuse to have their schedules dictated by the World Cup. Mark Zucker, Sony's international distribution president, said the remake of The Karate Kid will hold its European opening in "prime summer dates" along with a publicity tour by its stars, Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. Another testosterone-fuelled remake, The A-Team, will also open during the World Cup. Leo Barraclough, of Variety magazine, said studios release films unlikely to compete for the same male-dominated audiences during the tournament.

Warner Bros will release Sex and the City 2 starring Sarah Jessica Parker on 27 May, in the US and worldwide. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, part of the Twilight vampire franchise so popular with teenage girls, will be released internationally within two weeks of its 30 June opening in America.

The 3D sequel Shrek Forever After will be released in France on 30 June, long after its 21 May debut in America, offering family audiences an escape from World Cup fever.

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