May 7, 2006

Cruise’s “Mission” underwhelms at box office

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Mission: Impossible III," the
first big action film of the summer, opened disappointingly at
the weekend box office in North American, despite a whirlwind
publicity tour by its pricey star, Tom Cruise.

The spy thriller sold $48 million worth of tickets in its
first three days in theaters across the United States and
Canada, distributor Paramount Pictures said on Sunday.

The Viacom Inc.-owned studio said the figure was within its
expectations of a bow in the $50 million range, but it was
gratified by the international showing, where it earned $70
million after opening virtually everywhere except Japan and
India. The movie did bomb in Germany, where Cruise has
historically had a tough time, the studio said. The movie cost
just under $150 million to make.

Rival studios said they had expected the film to open to at
least $60 million domestically. Industry analyst Brandon Gray
at said he had expected the movie to kick off
with about $70 million, which is where the last two opened
after adjusting for ticket price inflation.

"A truly successful sequel needs to open bigger than its
predecessor," Gray said, noting that follow-up movies usually
burn out more quickly.

He doubted that Cruise's unconventional antics in the past
year -- such as jumping on talk show host Oprah Winfrey's couch
and his strident support of Scientology -- played a role in the
film's underperformance, and instead pointed the finger at a
marketing campaign that made the movie seem less fun than its

Comparing North American sales with those of the first two
"Mission" films is not easy, as those opened during the
Memorial Day holiday weekends at the end of May when overall
business was stronger.

The first film, directed in 1996 by Brian De Palma, earned
an unadjusted $45.4 million during the Friday-to-Sunday period,
but its figures would have been higher if not for Tuesday
previews and a Wednesday opening. It ended up with $180.9
million. Four years later, John Woo's sequel earned $57.8
million for the same period, ending up with $215.4 million.

The new film ranks No. 2 among North American openings this
year, far behind "Ice Age: The Meltdown" with $68 million a
month ago, and only $8 million ahead of "Scary Movie 4."

It marks the first release to get the green light from the
studio's new chairman and chief executive, former talent
manager Brad Gray, who came aboard early last year after the
previous regime suffered through several years of
underperforming pictures.

Paramount production president Rob Moore preferred to use
last year's "Batman Begins" as his yardstick, since both movies
resurrected a dormant franchise. The Caped Crusader opened to
$48.7 million on its way to $205 million.

The critically acclaimed film marks Cruise's third turn as
superspy Ethan Hunt. Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman
("Capote") played the bad guy. After plugging the movie at
several major cities overseas, Cruise spent Wednesday on an
unusual mission in New York leading media and fans on a wild
goose chase around the city.

The film also marks the feature directing debut of TV
veteran J.J. Abrams, creator of such shows as "Alias" and
"Lost." He stepped in after David Fincher and then Joe Carnahan
exited. That was not the only behind-the-scenes drama. Cruise
reportedly had to cut his fee after Paramount's new bosses
balked at the escalating budget.

While there were some reports that the youthful 43-year-old
was losing his female fan base, Paramount said the demographics
were exactly the same for all three "Mission" movies: 64
percent of viewers were aged 25 and older, and 56 percent were