Mission: Impossible 3 Flop Rocks Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for May 5-7, 2006
By John Hamann
May 7, 2006

Why is there a Big Wheel right behind our training mat?

Just when the box office was starting to roll, trying to shed its image of troubled times and an industry in turmoil, that turmoil is back in a big way due to a stunning disappointment in Tom Cruise and his Mission: Impossible III. Once upon a time, the first weekend in May was big business for studios, but now with expensive disappointments over consecutive years, scheduling may have to take another look. Tom Cruise has had some May success in the past, but never this early in the fifth month, and never with him carrying this much baggage.

Let's get straight to it: Mission: Impossible III opened to only $48 million from a stupidly large (like you are fired large) venue count of 4,054. Empty venues abound, MI3 ended the weekend with a venue average of $11,846, well off the $15,000ish averages the first two films enjoyed. It started Friday somewhere between $16.5 and $17 million, which gives it a weekend multiplier of about 2.9, which is an okay figure, but not a good indication of legs. For Cruise, this is not a good result. Last year's War of the Worlds opened on the questionable side ($64.9 million for a Cruise/Spielberg picture with HUGE awareness and cross-demographic audience) as did The Last Samurai ($24.3 million).Where has Tom gone wrong? Ego and image? Religious overhangings? Katie? Couch jumping? Need I go on? Just like Howard Dean, going a little nutso has cost him the campaign. Mission: Impossible II opened $10 million higher than this at $57.8 million (six years ago), and the first installment opened to $45.4 million ten years ago. The killer point to this is that both of those films opened on a Wednesday, so the must-see-it-first audience had already seen it once the weekend rolled around, dulling its Friday-to-Sunday audience. Someone at Paramount is crying.

Adjusted for inflation, the first Mission: Impossible would have come in at $62 million in today's dollars, and MI2 would have seen $64.7 million today, which indicates to me that Paramount was looking for a $60 million opening. Want more? In May 2003, the second X-men film opened to $85.6 million (starring really no one except the franchise, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman). Over the same weekend in 2002, Spider-Man, racked up twice as much as MI3, coming in at about $115 million. The Mission: Impossible III opening ranks 18th all time for May, a ranking that is just awful for a film with this kind of pedigree. The production budget is somewhere between $150 and $200 million (not including that stupid amount of prints), so just to meet that $200 million figure this one has to have an opening weekend-to-domestic total multiplier of 4.2. Mission: Impossible II (a film with not so great word-of-mouth) had a opening-to-total multiplier of 3.7, and the first carried a solid 4.0. While this may sound good, sequels and films that are perceived as flops have more questionable multipliers, as will most likely be the case with MI3. Again, don't get me wrong, this film will still be a huge moneymaker for the studio once international markets and home video are counted. The best way to look at it is this: think of yourself going to work with the expectation of being paid $100. Once you get your paycheck, the amount is $75 – are you happy?

While opening a Mission: Impossible film with 4,054 venues may seem like a good idea on paper, it is actually quite the opposite. With this opening, some theaters on the continent may have been 25% full at best. Word-of-mouth comes from the moviegoing experience, where you are in a dark room full of strangers, sharing that experience. The crowd can pull you into a movie, making you like it more, and making you talk about it more. Think of one of the first three Star Wars films. Can you remember that theater experience? Was it busy? Paramount will have trouble maintaining an audience next weekend as its total availability and its awareness meant that anybody who wanted to see it this weekend could have.

My last point on MI3 will be its reviews and the impact they had. While reviews were on the good side, I think they also may have had an impact on the opening weekend. Many talked MI3 up as an action movie with lots of dialogue and romance, something this audience doesn't want to see. Of the 143 reviews counted at RottenTomatoes, 103 were positive, leaving it with a fresh rating of 72%. The second Mission: Impossible was not as fresh coming at 58%. War of the Worlds and MI3 were both good films, but perhaps they should have opened on opposite dates.

After all that, there is little good news in the rest of the top ten. The number two film this weekend is RV, which actually held better than expected this weekend. The Robin Williams vacation comedy grossed $11.1 million from 3,651 venues, which equals a weekend to weekend drop of 32%. RV shows that its family-oriented comedy (like classics such as Cheaper by the Dozen and Yours, Mine and Ours) prove to be excellent counter-programming during the summer. RV now has $31 million in the domestic kitty versus a budget of about $50 million.

An American Haunting slides under the radar and opens in third this weekend; however, despite its ranking, the gross is only so-so. An American Haunting opened this weekend to $6.4 million from only 1,668 venues. That gives it a decent venue average of $3,824 and provides an okay debut for upstart distributor Freestyle Releasing, as this one cost only $15 million to make.

Fourth spot goes to Stick It, which debuted last weekend with an okay score of $10.8 million. The result this weekend isn't as good, as Stick It grossed $5.5 million this weekend and dropped 49%. So far, the Jeff Bridges film has earned $18 million for Buena Vista.

Surprisingly well back in fifth is United 93, a film that was released too soon (much like Mission: Impossible III). United 93 grossed $5.2 million this weekend, down a wild 55% from last weekend. Good counter-programming or not, this is a film that the North American continent just wasn't ready for. The gross for Universal now stands at $20.1 million.

The rest of the top ten was a disaster, with four films finishing with $600,000 of each other. Ice Age 2 sneaks into sixth this weekend, actually up a spot from last weekend, but way down in terms of gross (not a good sign for the box office). The Meltdown grossed $4 million this weekend and was off 45% from the previous frame. The gross now for the Fox Animated product sits at $183.3 million.

Silent Hill finished seventh this weekend, as it continues to get hammered since its debut only three weekends ago. Silent Hill grossed $3.9 million this weekend, down a nasty 58%. It now sits with $40.8 million after opening to $20.2 million.

Scary Movie 4, which had fun lampooning Tom Cruise and opened within $8 million of MI3, grossed $3.8 million this weekend. The spoof was off 52% and now has a gross of $83.7 million.

Akeelah and the Bee finishes ninth this weekend, as what at least sounds like a good film fails to find an audience. Akeelah grossed $3.4 million this weekend, down a larger than expected 43%. Akeelah now has $10.7 million in the domestic kitty after two weekends of release. Why it didn't start as limited release, I'll never know.

Hoot, the new film made for a slim $15 million (the cost of its prints would have been twice as much) also tumbled hard in its debut this weekend. From Narnia's Walden Media, Hoot didn't get off to a great start, but at least the budget isn't in line with Walden's Around the World in 80 Days. Hoot, a kids flick, earned $3.4 million this weekend from a ridiculous 3,018 venues, giving this opener one of the most dreadful averages I've seen in a very long time at $1,126. While gone in the next frame, this opening will be an embarrassing story for New Line and Walden for at least two weekends, as it will hold its venue count next weekend.

Overall, numbers are up over last year, but the feeling of dread continues. The top ten for this year's frame pulled in $94.7 million, but last year was worse with a top ten that grossed a brutal $76.1 million. At least the next few of weekends hold exceptional promise with X-Men 3 and The Da Vinci Code opening soon.