''M:I-3'' wins -- but with less than expected: Tom Cruise's action flick brings in $48 mil its first weekend, making Joshua Rich wonder about its future

By Joshua Rich
May 07, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Considering all the questions going into this weekend about whether Tom Cruise still had fans and whether his new movie would draw a crowd, the box office results provided few answers. Mission: Impossible III debuted at No. 1 with a decent-but-not-great $48 million, according to Sunday’s estimates. That gross is a tad under industry predictions — and it’s certainly a bit off from the prognostication of a certain EW.com box office savant. And I can explain that. See, all the talk last week had been about how Cruise had lost his female fan base. I believed it until I turned on The View on Friday and watched as that woman who used to be on Survivor was cooing over Cruise and hanging on his every baby story. So I started to think that all the talk about women hating him was, indeed, just talk. (And, yes, I was watching The View. Never you mind.)

Well, so much for all that. According to audience-polling firm CinemaScore, 92 percent of M:I-3‘s crowd gave it an A or a B and 40 percent of theatergoers listed Cruise as their main reason for going to see the film — but two less-encouraging facts stood out: (1) Male fans outnumbered females by a pretty big margin of 3-to-2 (so much for Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s cooing); (2) A whopping two-thirds of the audience was over the age of 25, a pretty clear sign that Cruise no longer attracts the key younger demographic that entertainment execs drool over. I mean, I remember begging my parents to let me see The Best Movie of All Time, Top Gun, when it premiered 20 years ago this month — just begging them to let me go — but I truly wonder whether 10-year-olds today are pestering their folks to take them to M:I-3. Doubt it.

But enough with all the cooing and drooling and begging. The real thing to ponder now is where M:I-3 goes from here. Paramount execs may not be jumping on couches, but they should be satisfied with the movie’s debut, and they can expect M:I-3 to hold strong next week when its main competition is Poseidon, which has been tracking quite poorly. Certainly, it’ll pass $100 mil — even Cruise crapola like Vanilla Sky does that. But will it pass $200 million? Gotta think not. Because even though most of the star’s vehicles have earned more than $100 mil, just two have ever made it to $200 mil: M:I-2 ($215.4 mil) and last summer’s War of the Worlds ($234.3 mil). And both of those started out much stronger than this one has.

I don’t mean to ignore the other movies that played this weekend; you already did that by pretty much avoiding everything else at the multiplex. Still, there’s a bunch more to talk about. RV parked in the No. 2 spot with $11.1 mil (actually, it dropped a mere 32 percent in its second week, so kudos to Robin Williams and company). An American Haunting scared up $6.4 mil for No. 3, an unimpressive $3,824 average per screen. Stick It landed at No. 4 with $5.5 mil. And with its buzz petering out, United 93 dropped 55 percent to earn $5.2 mil (fifth place).

Moving beyond the top five, it’s hard to say which was more atrocious: Hoot‘s $3.4 mil bow, or the fact that its average was just $1,127 on 3,018 screens. (Umm, I’ll say the average is more pathetic.) Anyway, it finished at No. 9, and, according to my good buddy John at box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI, its earnings were the lowest ever for a movie opening on more than 3,000 screens. Yipes! The Chinese action-fantasy import The Promise played to a similarly low $1,272 average in 213 locations. Conversely, Terry Zwigoff’s kooky comedy Art School Confidential scored a strong $142,157 in 12 venues. That movie led limited releases like ThinkFilm’s kooky drama Down in Valley, which earned $26,310 on three screens in Manhattan, and whose title reminds me of how down in the dumps I was when my parents refused to let me watch The Best Movie of All Time, Top Gun, in the theater. Still haven’t forgotten, Mom and Dad.

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