Paramount Pictures has quietly stepped away from a May opening for its Tom Cruise tentpole “Mission: Impossible 3.”

The studio, which had no official comment, moved off the date recently after Michael Mann announced plans to direct “Collateral” for DreamWorks, with Tom Cruise expected to topline and lensing starting in the fall. As a result, “M:I 3” is now expected to begin shooting in January, which clearly precludes the previously planned May 21 release.

The studio has not set a new release date, but the most likely scenario would be for “M:I 3” to open during the 2004 holiday season or in May 2005.

The obvious beneficiaries from the move: Warner’s sword-and-sandal epic “Troy,” due on May 21, and a pair of high-profile titles set for May 28 — Fox’s global disaster sci-fier “Day After Tomorrow” and Revolution’s comicbook-based actioner “Hellboy,” distribbed by Sony.

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In addition, Fox may be tempted to move CGI comedy “Garfield” from June 4, where it would face off against Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Paramount successfully employed May openings for the first two “Mission: Impossible” films, with the first grossing $454 million worldwide in 1996 and “Mission: Impossible 2” following with $546 million worldwide four years later.

“Narc” director Joe Carnahan will helm “Mission: Impossible 3,” to be produced by Cruise and Paula Wagner via their Par-based C/W Prods., with Cruise portraying agent Ethan Hunt.

(Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)