Fewer people chose to accept Tom Cruise's latest mission than the previous two, a possible sign that the odd behavior of Hollywood's biggest star may have taken a toll on his box-office charm.
Paramount's "Mission: Impossible III" debuted with $48.025 million, a solid opening yet well below industry expectations and almost $10 million lower than the franchise's previous installment, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Industry analysts had expected the movie to open in the range of "Mission: Impossible II," which debuted with $57.8 million from Friday to Sunday over Memorial Day weekend in 2000, and Cruise's "War of the Worlds," which premiered with $64.9 million from Friday to Sunday over Fourth of July weekend last year.
Rob Moore, Paramount's head of worldwide marketing and distribution, said he did not believe Cruise's private life had any impact on "Mission: Impossible III," directed by "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams.
"I don't think so. There's no question it concerns us if the press is writing about things other than the movie," Moore said. "If people are writing about his personal life, then by definition, they're not writing about the movie."
Cruise's antics in the past year or so, publicity over his romance with Katie Holmes and the tabloid blitz regarding their daughter's birth in April may have left some movie-goers burned out or disenchanted with the actor.
Traditionally reserved about his private life, Cruise abruptly became an open book, jumping up and down on a couch while professing his love for Holmes in an interview with Oprah Winfrey and spouting his Scientology beliefs, including rants against psychiatry.
"Expectations were really high for this film. I think it's a good number, but people were obviously expecting better numbers," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "There's a lot to be said for how a star's public persona can affect a movie's box office."
"Mission: Impossible III" earned generally favorable reviews, some critics calling it the best in the franchise and many offering high praise for Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Cruise's nemesis.
Along with potential Cruise backlash, the long six-year interval since "Mission: Impossible II" may have dulled audience appetites.
Head-to-head comparisons are difficult, since the previous "Mission: Impossible" movies and "War of the Worlds" opened over long holiday weekends, when Sunday grosses typically are much stronger than during a regular weekend.
Debuting in about 55 other countries, "Mission: Impossible III" took in $70 million, for a worldwide total of $118 million. Paramount noted that the new movie beat the $115 million worldwide debut of "Mission: Impossible II" in those same countries.
Factoring in higher ticket prices, the debut for "Mission: Impossible III" looks worse. About 7.3 million people saw the new movie, compared with 10.7 million over the opening weekend for "Mission: Impossible II" and 10.3 million for "Mission: Impossible," which opened with $45.4 million over Memorial Day weekend in 1996.
The weekend's other wide releases had fair to poor openings. Freestyle Releasing's "An American Haunting," starring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland in a 19th century supernatural tale, debuted at No. 3 with $6.4 million.
New Line's family film "Hoot," adapted from Carl Hiaasen's novel about teenagers trying to save endangered owls, flopped with $3.4 million, tied for No. 9.
"Mission: Impossible III' led Hollywood to its seventh-straight weekend of rising revenues. The top-12 movies took in $99.4 million, up 27 percent compared to the same weekend last year, when "Kingdom of Heaven" led the box office with an anemic $19.6 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
"Hoot," $3.4 million.