‘Mission’ a hit in Asia

'MI3' banks $70 mil o'seas

Tom Cruise showed considerably more muscle overseas than he did domestically, as “Mission: Impossible III” launched with $70.3 million at 7,390 playdates in 57 markets. But in at least a couple of territories, there were signs that his ties to Scientology fostered some backlash against the pic.

“MI3” resonated best in Asian markets, with South Korea’s $10.6 million at 402 engagements representing UIP’s biggest opener ever in that market and beating the U.K.’s $10.1 million at 513 for the world’s top number.

But the Cruise persona may have cooled off moviegoing interest in France, which posted the third-largest launch of $6.1 million at 728, and particularly in Germany, which tallied a downright disappointing $2.6 million at 802 — just one-quarter of the Brit biz. The “MI3” gross for Germany, usually the No. 3 foreign market after Japan and the U.K., was only the ninth-largest in the world.

The German figure lagged 65% behind “MI2,” while French biz was off 7% from the second “Mission.”

Anti-Cruise sentiment has emerged in local media coverage and Internet chatrooms in France, thanks partly to Cruise’s no-show at a Paris press conference. Meanwhile, Germans have lingering concerns over his avid pro-Scientology views, expressed locally during last year’s “War of the Worlds” promo tour. Though “War of the Worlds” performed strongly in overseas markets with $357 million, results were less impressive in France, with $29 million, and Germany, with $20 million.

The German underperformance of “MI3” came despite positive local notices.

“When Tom Cruise jumps up and down on sofas, it’s embarrassing,” wrote German weekly Der Spiegel. “When he dives off skyscrapers, it’s heart-stopping.”

UIP topper Andrew Cripps dismissed any notion of a Cruise backlash.

“Our market share in Germany is very high, and in France the $6.1 million is a very strong number,” he said Sunday. “I think the weather took its toll, and I see no evidence of anything else playing a part.”

The exec noted warm weather hindered “MI3” numbers all over Europe on Friday, but biz generally bounced back Saturday when rain arrived.

Cripps dubbed the $70.3 million opening “fantastic,” pointing to comparative launches during summer holidays of $57.4 million for “MI2” six years ago and $53.5 million for the original in 1996, along with last summer’s “Batman Begins,” which opened with $42 million in 73 markets. The first “Mission” pics combined for more than $600 million in foreign grosses; “Batman Begins” took in $166 million overseas.

The “MI3” launch overseas didn’t come close to the $90 million-plus weekends for more family-friendly pics — “Ice Age: The Meltdown” a month ago and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” in November — but Cripps predicted the combo of playability and strong reviews will give the actioner long legs internationally.

“MI3” will have the field clear next weekend, as Warner Bros. is holding off on most international openings for “Poseidon,” but the pic faces strong competition in the following two frames, with Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” aiming for 10,000 overseas screens and Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” expected to open at 9,000 foreign playdates the following weekend.

Spain generated the fourth largest “MI3” gross with $3.7 million at 554, 26% better than “MI2.” “The media don’t like Cruise, his Scientology and his harping about Katie Holmes, but for popcorn audiences, he’s simply a big star and they don’t care if he’s a Scientologist or not,” booker Roberto Bayon noted.

Bayon predicted “The Da Vinci Code” will perform far better, noting patrons are already reserving “Da Vinci” tickets and added, “It’s going to be the film of the year in Spain.”

In Italy, “MI3” launched with $3.3 million at 552, 32% better than its predecessor, while Taiwan opened with $3.1 million at 65, UIP’s second-best of all time. Mexico’s $3 million at 404 represented the second-best Par launch after “War of the Worlds,” while Australia’s $2.9 million take at 243 was 22% behind “MI2,” which lensed in Oz.

“MI3” set records as the top UIP opener in the Middle East with $1.05 million, in Greece with $1 million and in Indonesia with $630,000; and as the top Par launch in Thailand with $1.7 million and in Singapore and the Philippines with $1.3 million each.

UIP’s decision to go day-and-date with openings in all markets except Japan, China and India stemmed from the opportunity to take advantage of Cruise’s star power and his availability to promote the pic, plus the strong perfs of the previous pics and a desire to limit piracy. “MI3” won’t open until July 8 in Japan; the Chinese launch has been delayed due to government concerns over how China is portrayed in the pic.

The day-and-date launch also reflects how much more in sync foreign markets have become with domestic launches. When UIP launched “MI2” in 2000, it waited until three weeks after the domestic launch to open in South Korea, Taiwan and Argentina and then expanded gradually over the next month.

The foreign launch of “MI3” heralds the start of an especially active international market, with two other tentpoles — “The Da Vinci Code” and “X-Men 3” — launching soon to avoid conflicting with soccer’s World Cup, which runs June 9-July 9 in Germany.

The trio of tentpoles could provide a major jolt to the foreign box office, which has seen serious success this year from only two pics so far: 2005 holdover “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which grossed more than $250 million overseas this year, and Fox’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” which took in $14.3 million at 7,316 playdates to lift its foreign take to $405.68 million over the weekend.

“Ice Age 2,” as it’s known in most markets, performed best in Italy with $2.5 million at 647 in its third frame; in France with $1.4 million at 793 in its fifth weekend; and in Japan with $1.2 million at 358 in its third sesh. The CG sequel’s become the 20th pic to top $400 million in foreign grosses.

Distribs avoided any other launches during the weekend. BVI’s “Scary Movie 4” led the rest of the holdover pack with $5.4 million at 3,212 playdates in 28 markets to lift its foreign cume past $56 million, with its best numbers from its third German frame ($875,000 at 663).

UIP’s “Inside Man” took in $3.1 million at 1,200 in 40 markets to push its foreign take to $81 million, and BVI’s “Eight Below” followed with $2.8 million at 2,202 in 25 markets to cume $28 million overseas. Warner’s “V for Vendetta” stayed moderate with $2.3 million at 1,700 in 56 markets for a $57.9 million international total.

(Adam Dawtrey in the U.K., Ed Meza in Germany, Nick Vivarelli in Italy, John Hopewell in Spain and Allison James and Lisa Klaussmann in France contributed to this report.)

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