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More than a decade after his couch-jumping incident on Oprah Winfrey’s show almost derailed his career, Tom Cruise, 56, has scored a major victory at a time when movie stars have been supplanted by visual effects and comic-book superheroes. His character of uber spy Ethan Hunt has at least one foot in the real world, while with the other the indefatigable star launches himself into nearly impossible action sequences that have become the franchise’s trademark.
Over the July 27-29 weekend, Paramount’s and Skydance’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout opened to $61.5 million at the North American box office and $153.5 million globally, a series high — at least without adjusting the grosses of the previous installments for the effects of inflation.
So why did the sixth outing in a 22-year-old franchise scale such big numbers?
One clue is the film’s A CinemaScore, a first for any film in the action-spy franchise chronicling the globe-trotting adventures of uber spy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team. That’s in addition to the film’s widely publicized 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, likewise a franchise best and the top score any 2018 summer tentpole this year so far, including topping Pixar’s Incredibles 2 (93 percent). Also, it is the best Rotten Tomatoes rating of Cruise’s career.
In terms of the CinemaScore, Fallout is the first of Cruise’s movies to earn an A since The Last Samurai 15 years ago. A handful of his films since that time have earned an A-grade — including his last two Mission: Impossible installments — but in the parlance of CinemaScore, even the slightest grade variation can make a big difference in how a movie plays out as it’s buoyed by word of mouth.
Case in point: To date, the top-five grossing movies of 2018 at the worldwide box office — Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2 and Deadpool 2 all boast an A+ or A CinemaScore. (Black Panther and the Incredibles sequel are recipients of a coveted A+.)
Conversely, several tentpoles this year that failed to break out in a big way globally, including Rampage and Solo: A Star Wars Story, earned an A- CinemaScore. (Solo is the first of the four titles in the revitalized franchise to not receive an A.) At the same time, a CinemaScore hardly equates to automatic success, not matter what the grade.
The Mission: Impossible film series is most often compared to the James Bond and Jason Bourne franchises.
The Bourne Ultimatum, released in 2007, is the top-grossing title in that franchise, earning $442.8 million in 2007, not adjusted for inflation. It is only one of the four Bourne films to earn an A CinemaScore. The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Jason Bourne (2006) all received an A-. The Bourne Legacy — made sans Matt Damon — was a major disappointment in 2012 after topping out at $276 million globally. It earned a B CinemaScore.
Likewise, among the four modern-day Bond films starring Daniel Craig, the top-grossing installment, Skyfall (2012), is the only one that garnered an A CinemaScore on its way to earning $1.108 billion globally (it’s the first Bond film to join the billion-dollar club), again unadjusted for inflation.
Conversely, Quantum of Solace (2008) was the lowest-grossing of the films starring Craig after earning a B (CinemaScore founder Ed Mintz has often referred to any variation of a B grade as all-out “shaky”). The other two received an A-.
Of course, CinemaScores doesn’t always jibe with how a film performs. Until Fallout came along, Mission: Impossible II, opening in 2000, boasted the franchise record for top domestic opening with $57.8 million despite being the only title in the franchise to earn a B+ (every other installment earned an A- until Fallout came along).
And while getting a B in a regular classroom would be a solid accomplishment, in the parlance of CinemaScore, the grade and its variations can be “shaky,” Mintz said in a 2016 interview.
To date, the top global earner in the Cruise-led franchise isn’t Mission: Impossible II, but the last installment, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which earned $487.7 million in 2015 after debuting to $55.5 million domestically.
Cruise and Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie, who have worked together on nine films, including Rogue Nation, are being given huge props for engineering a series of high-risk stunts performed by the 56-year-old actor himself, including skydiving from a dangerously high altitude and flying a helicopter for a complicated maneuver. Cruise also bounded across buildings, a stunt that resulted in him breaking his ankle.
And the star drove that point home with an international press tour that saw the movie premiere splashily in Paris.
“We’ve had all these big visual-effect driven summer movies,” says Paramount distribution chief Kyle Davies. “Now comes along a movie where the actor and director are putting it all on the line with real stunts. It provides raw and visceral entertainment that people are excited about,”
Adds Imax entertainment CEO Greg Foster, “the legs on this movie are going to be very robust throughout August. You could already tell when Saturday was barely down from Friday. This is a ‘want to see movie,’ not a ‘get around to it movie.”
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