The summer movie marathon kicks off on Friday with the much-anticipated launch of the Tom Cruise spy sequel Mission: Impossible III which will easily dominate the worldwide box office. Two much smaller films will attempt to offer some counter-programming for those moviegoers not in the mood for globetrotting action. New Line unleashes the kid drama Hoot while Freestyle Releasing debuts its horror flick An American Haunting. Neither is expected to put a dent into the MI3 machine which looks to lead the industry to its best summer kickoff in three years.
After a six-year break, IMF Agent Ethan Hunt returns to the world of espionage in Mission: Impossible III anchored by Hollywood’s most bulletproof star. Director J.J. Abrams, best known to audiences as the creator of the hit ABC programs Lost and Alias, takes the helm of the latest PG-13 installment. A full decade after the franchise first launched, Tom Cruise returns to one of his most lucrative business ventures as a secret agent forced to reteam with fellow spies to stop a maniacal arms dealer played by recent Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. Ving Rhames is back for his third mission and is joined by Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, and Laurence Fishburne.
As to be expected, MI3 packs all the action-packed thrills, death-defying stunts, and chilling suspense that fans are looking for both from the spy series as well as from their early summer popcorn flicks. Cruise flashes his billion-dollar smile every 2.3 seconds in the film and moviegoers get to see their hero play the "dedicated husband" role this time. The big box office question is whether Suri’s dad has lost any fans over the past year because of his strange behavior on talk shows, wacky public appearances with Katie Holmes, and dedication to Scientology. Is he still popular? Who else on the planet has grossed $4 billion dollars worldwide over the last 14 years with his films?
Odds are he has indeed turned off some paying customers who showed up in years past for Mission: Impossible films, but will now choose to sit this one out. However, the overall audience for this giant is so immense that it will only make a small dent. Plus Paramount wisely staked out the first weekend of May ages ago for their prized property as the studio knew the film would need all the help it could get in order to guarantee blockbuster status. With no real competition in the marketplace, MI3 will monopolize the attention of both audiences and the media. Plus, megaplexes typically have more available screens at this time of year so the spy sequel can gobble up a fifth or sixth screen. In June and July, when so many big movies are crowded into theaters, the biggest hits are lucky to secure three or four screens within a venue. MI3 should have no problem soaking up all the consumer demand there is this weekend.
Over the last two years, the first weekend in May turned out to be rather disappointing. After 2001’s The Mummy Returns ($68.1M debut), 2002’s Spider-Man ($114.8M), and 2003’s X2: X-Men United ($85.6M), Universal’s monster movie Van Helsing kicked off summer on the frame but its $51.7M bow seemed rather subdued compared to what the industry had seen in the past. Last year was even worse with the Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven slumping to a $19.6M debut. This year, Hollywood kicks off summer with a crowdpleaser that is as mainstream and as commercial as it gets. MI3 may not have a crazed fan base like comic book pictures have, but it certainly should fly higher than the openings of other A-list spy flicks. The last James Bond film Die Another Day opened to $47.1M in 2002 while 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy took off with $52.5M. Cruise provides more starpower and the Mission series is arguably a bigger box office draw so the turnout this weekend should definitely top these figures.
Comparing the new film to the previous two makes little sense in terms of box office grosses. Both of those opened mid-week ahead of a four-day Memorial Day holiday frame plus had other big blockbusters in the marketplace to deal with. Still, Mission: Impossible’s $56.8M four-day bow and MI2’s $70.8M holiday launch proved that moviegoers looking for some bang for the buck at the beginning of summer looked to Cruise for their thrills. Once again all the bases have been covered with Mr. You Complete Me hopping around the world over the past week attending premieres, dominating all press attention, and hyping up his film to ensure that ticket buyers come out to see this on the big screen. Plus Hoffman, fresh from his Academy Award win, adds value and credibility to the project as audiences prefer known actors in the role of the villain rather than some nobody whose acting fees happen to fit the budget.
Paramount is sparing no expense in marketing Mission: Impossible III which should come as no surprise. As a studio, Paramount has only seen two films open to more than $50M over three days and both were Cruise vehicles – last year’s War of the Worlds with $64.9M and 2000’s MI2 with $57.8M. Their number one commodity has been out courting every demographic that has disposable income in hopes of appealing to a broad audience. Exciting teens and young adults is especially important as this heavy-spending group needs to be sold on the fact that the 43-year-old Cruise can still be a "hottie." The requisite MTV appearances should do the trick. Older adults pay attention to critics and the film has scored high marks in that department so far.
This weekend, all eyes are on MI3 to energize the marketplace and the fireworks begin early with many theaters starting their first showtimes at 10:00pm on Thursday night. A colossal theater count that is the second largest in history for any live-action film (after Spider-Man 2‘s 4,152) will make sure the product is available around every corner. Breaking into a mammoth 4,054 theaters in North America, the action thriller might open with around $74M over the Friday-to-Sunday span.
Those looking for a few less bullets and explosions this weekend will have the chance to spend some time with a group of good-hearted kids trying to save endangered owls in the family drama Hoot. Based on the best-selling book, the PG-rated film is aimed at kids under the age of 14 as well as their parents. Fans of the book may certainly come out in force this weekend although some may be deterred by the lukewarm reception that critics are giving it. With Luke Wilson as its big name, Hoot has virtually no starpower to tap into and so will have to rely on the built-in audience in order to make an impressive showing. The Robin Williams film RV will provide ample competition for families and Stick It will steal away young girls leaving young boys as the likely audience. New Line’s marketing has not been too fierce so there is only so much box office potential. Hoot flies into more than 2,800 theaters on Friday and could debut with about $9M.
Trying to carve out its own piece of the pie this weekend is the supernatural thriller An American Haunting which recently plopped itself onto the May 5 date. The PG-13 film stars Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek as nineteenth century landowners whose daughter becomes possessed. Distributor Freestyle Releasing is hoping to tap into the Exorcism of Emily Rose crowd with its spooky premise and tame rating making it accessible to young teens. However, Haunting should scare up a fraction of the business as much of its target audience will be busy lining up for MI3. A different release date would have been smarter. The marketing behind Haunting makes it look like the run-of-the-mill creepfest and after a long line of successful horror hits this year, audiences are demanding more. An American Haunting bows in 1,667 houses on Friday and may take in around $5M.
Opening in limited release this weekend is the epic fantasy adventure The Promise which unites top actors from China, Korea, and Japan. Written and directed by Chen Kaige (Farewell, My Concubine), the PG-13 film was nominated for a Golden Globe in the foreign language category and was China’s official entry into this year’s Academy Awards. It was set to be released by The Weinstein Co. with the title Master of Crimson Armor, but the distribution deal fell apart at the beginning of this year. Warner Independent Pictures will now release The Promise charging into an aggressive 209 theaters in its first weekend.
With all eyes on Ethan Hunt this weekend, holdover pictures will all take a backseat and see their grosses erode. But if history is any indicator, the declines may not be too steep. In both 2002 and 2003, when the first weekend of May saw colossal openings from Spider-Man and X2 respectively, most major holdovers experienced drops that were only in the 40-45% range. Studios are hoping that MI3 will bring in more traffic to the theaters and that there will be extra dollars to go around.
Last weekend’s top film RV will not see too much competition from the spy sequel, but instead has Hoot taking away some of its family audience. A 40% drop to around $10M would give Sony’s Robin Williams pic $30M in ten days. Universal’s 9/11 thriller United 93 has generated solid reviews, scored very high in its exit polls, and generated a strong per-theater average last weekend. Second weekend sales should remain respectable. A 35% decline would give United 93 about $7.5M for the frame and a ten-day tally of $22M. Buena Vista’s gymnastics comedy Stick It might tumble 40% to around $6.5M for a cume of $19M after ten days.
LAST YEAR The first weekend of May saw its worst opening in seven years as Ridley Scott’s big-budget epic Kingdom of Heaven debuted to just $19.6M. The Fox release went on to capture a disappointing $47.4M domestically, but more than tripled that amount overseas leading to a $211M worldwide tally. Opening in second with not-so-scary results was the horror remake House of Wax which bowed to $12.1M for Warner Bros. The fright flick melted quickly reaching a final total of $32.1M. Falling from first to third was the sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which dropped 54% to $9.8M in its second voyage. Lions Gate didn’t make much noise opening its little movie called Crash which premiered in fourth with $9.1M. Although the race relations drama generated the smallest opening among the weekend’s three new films, it enjoyed the best legs and eventually became the highest overall domestic grosser with $53.4M. Rounding out the top five was the former Mrs. Cruise’s political thriller The Interpreter which took in $7.8M in its third mission.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, BoxOfficeGuru.com