LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paramount Pictures has delayed the release of Tom Cruise films "Top Gun: Maverick" until May 2022 and "Mission: Impossible 7" until September 2022, a spokesman for the ViacomCBS Inc studio said Wednesday, as COVID-19 infections rise.

The "Top Gun" sequel, which has been delayed several times during the pandemic, had been set to debut in theaters on Nov. 19. It will now debut on the date that had been set for "M:I 7" over next year's Memorial Day weekend.

Movie studios have shuffled their schedules as they try to gauge when crowds will return to cinemas. The Delta variant of the coronavirus has disrupted a hoped-for comeback.

Theater chains, including AMC Entertainment, Cineworld Plc and Cinemark Holdings, are counting on blockbusters such as "Top Gun" to help lure audiences back.

Jeff Bock, senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co, called Paramount's decision on "Top Gun" a "smart move."

"Paramount needs this to be a big worldwide hit. Global marketplace just isn't there yet," Bock wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)