The megastar's latest venue, Mission: Impossible 2, took in $71.8 million over the four-day weekend, easily surpassing the opening of the first spy caper in 1996 and propelling the overall box office to a Memorial Day record.
The Mission sequel became the second-best Memorial Day premiere ever, behind Jurassic Park: The Lost World, which grossed $90.2 million in four days in 1997.
Mission: Impossible 2 has grossed $92.8 million since opening Wednesday, about $18 million more than the first flick took in during its Memorial Day opening.
Amazingly, after Cruise was through with the buying public, there were enough dollars to go around to some other films, too. Last week's No. 1 Dinosaur bore up well, bringing in another $33.5 million for the Friday through Monday period and securing the Number 2 box-office slot, according to Hollywood.com.
The top 12 movies alone grossed $174.7 million this weekend. That shattered the record of $147.9 million set by the top 50 movies over Memorial Day weekend in 1997.
"What an explosive way to start the summer," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which had the No. 2 and No. 3 movies. Jackie Chan's comic Western Shanghai Noon debuted in third place with $19.5 million.
DreamWorks held the fourth through sixth spots with Gladiator at $17.3 million, Road Trip at $14 million and Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks at $3.9 million.
Gladiator has grossed $127.2 million, passing Erin Brockovich as the top-grossing movie so far this year, while Small Time Crooks more than doubled the take of Allen's last movie, Sweet and Lowdown, in just 11 days.
Cruise's sequel already has racked up a little more than half the $181 million Mission: Impossible took in domestically for its entire run. The new movie received generally better reviews than the original, which drew criticism for its confusing plot.
"I believe the film plays better than the first one, just based on watching audience reaction in theaters," said Wayne Lewellen, head of distribution for Paramount, which released Mission: Impossible 2. "And I think perhaps Tom Cruise is an even bigger star today than he was then."
Playing at 3,653 locations, Mission: Impossible 2 averaged a whopping $19,655 per theater, compared to $10,145 in 3,302 cinemas for Dinosaur.
The big weekend gave another boost to the year's overall box office, which is running about 9 percent ahead of 1999, when audiences shelled out a record $7.5 billion.
"The enormity of Mission's opening, coupled with the depth of good movies at the box office, is unparalleled in any other Memorial Day I've seen," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. In., which tracks movie ticket sales. "Normally, you see one film dominating and the next one at about $10 million, but to have this many movies in double digits, it's amazing."
The weekend's only other new movie, Demi Moore's Passion of Mind, opened with $220,000 in 104 theaters. The film, which received weak reviews, averaged a meager $2,115 a theater.
Rounding out Hollywood.com's top 10 were Frequency, $3.8 million; U-571, $3.2 million; Center Stage, $2.8 million; and Where the Heart Is, $2 million.
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