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‘Mission’ control

Hopes ride on tentpole

Paramount is hoping for a summer-season blast-off this weekend as “Mission: Impossible III” bows ultra-wide domestically and in nearly every major market around the world.

Tentpole is an early test for the industry and the studio. Box office so far this year is up 5% over a year ago and the industry would need a number of the summer’s big actioners, starting with “M:I3,” to perform in order for that trend to continue.

Pic could have one of the biggest foreign bows ever, with the potential to become the seventh film to gross more than $100 million overseas on its first weekend. Last Tom Cruise starrer, “War of the Worlds,” took in $112.3 million in foreign markets in its first weekend last summer on its way to cuming $357 million overseas.

In addition, “M:I3” is the last major film inherited from Sherry Lansing. It’s also the first tentpole to be released by the marketing and distribution team headed by Rob Moore.

Domestically, “M:I3” is the fourth widest debut ever, hitting 4,054 playdates.

That’s about 400 more than “M:I2,” which grossed $57.8 million over the first three days of the Memorial Day weekend when it opened in 2000 on the way to a cume of $215 million.

With the extra screens and ticket price inflation, “M:I3” has a good shot at beating that figure. The only thing holding it back may be that the preceding film will likely turn out to have had stronger Sunday night showings since that Monday was a holiday. Par execs will likely be pleased if they break $60 million.

Par is also counting on a stronger hold for “M:I3” than its predecessor’s 53% second weekend drop, as reviews for the new installment are strong and next weekend’s big opener, “Poseidon,” isn’t tracking well.

Word of mouth could particularly help with women, who are currently tracking well behind men.

Pic is also setting a record as it debuts at over 170 digital screens at 122 locations, the most ever in the U .S.

Competition this weekend will be very light. Only other wide openers are New Line and Walden’s kid pic “Hoot” and Freestyle Releasing’s “An American Haunting.”

“M:I3’s” potential is even bigger overseas, where UIP is debuting it on about 9,500 playdates in 55 markets. Only major markets it’s not hitting day-and-date are Japan, China and India.

Pic already had a solid start in a few territories where it bowed Wednesday. It grossed $2.6 million on its first day in eight Asian markets, led by $926,000 in South Korea, $366,000 in Taiwan, $327,000 in Thailand, $277,000 at 51 in Malaysia, $247,000 at 100 in the Philippines and $196,000 at 29 in Singapore. Grosses in France, Belgium and Switzerland, where it also opened Wednesday, weren’t available.

Cruise has been tubthumping for “M:I3” around the world as part of a huge marketing campaign by Par that has gone very smoothly save for a cancelled junket appearance by Cruise due to the birth of his baby and sound chips in a Los Angeles Times street boxes that were mistaken several times for bombs.

Cruise attended all five preems in Rome, Paris, London, Mexico City and in Gotham.

The previous “Mission” pics established powerful overseas performances at a time when the international market was significantly less developed with the first grossing $275 million overseas in 1996 and the second taking in $330 million from foreign territories in 2000.

“Mission 3” won’t open until July 8 in Japan. The Chinese launch has been delayed due to government concerns over how China’s portrayed in the pic.

Back in the U.S., New Line will likely be pleased if “Hoot,” which is aimed squarely at kids too young for “M:I3’s” violence, breaks $10 million as it opens at 3,018 theaters.

Freestyle is bowing horror film “An American Haunting” at 1,667 playdates and is counting on mid-single digits.

In limited release, Warner Independent opens Chinese action blockbuster “The Promise” at 213 locations.

Sony Pictures Classics bows “Art School Confidential” at 12 theaters in Gotham and L.A.

(Patrick Frater in Hong Kong contributed to this report.)

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