Most moviegoers’ mission Memorial Day weekend will be to see Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 2.”

The PG-13-rated action adventure sequel — known for short as “M:I-2” — got off to a flying start with its Wednesday opening to $12.5 million at a record-setting 3,653 theaters ($3,422 per theater).

“It’s a 37% first choice in the tracking,” an insider points out, predicting blockbuster business for the long holiday weekend. Looking back, he adds, the original “Mission” was a 27% first choice when it opened, and last year’s “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace” was a 43% first choice.

M:I-2‘s” Wednesday gross compares very favorably to the original “Mission: Impossible‘s” opening day total of $11.8 million for Wed., May 22, 1996, at 3,012 theaters ($3,918 per theater). That gross actually included pre-opening Tuesday night preview showings as well as the first full day’s ticket sales. Because Paramount never broke out how much of that total represented the previews, it’s consequently impossible to make precise comparisons between the two opening-day figures. It’s reasonable, however, to figure that the sneaks did $1.5-2.0 million, which would have put the Wednesday-only gross in the $10.3-$9.8 million range.

The original “Mission” took in $56.8 million for the four-day weekend (May 24-27, 1996). It grossed $74.9 million for six days (if you don’t count Tuesday’s previews as an additional day or a half-day) and $79.0 million for its first full week in theaters (again, not counting the previews as an extra day). “Mission” went on to gross $180.9 million domestically and $284 million internationally, for a worldwide cume of $464.9 million.

Hollywood handicappers are anticipating $75-95 million for “M:I-2” for the six-day period from Wednesday through Monday and a seven-day gross of $80-100 million.

Clearly, “M:I-2” will be Number One by a mile for the four-day weekend, grossing north of $56 million.

Although there will be tons of media coverage of the opening day’s gross, it won’t be until Friday morning that the first meaningful comparisons can be made. Friday it will be possible to compare the drop from Wednesday to Thursday. The original “Mission‘s” drop was 46%, but its Wednesday gross included Tuesday night previews.

“Here’s the question,” says one observer. “Did all of that business go into Wednesday? In other words, the people who were so gung-ho to come out (to see the original) that Tuesday night, did they simply come out (to see the sequel) Wednesday, or are some of them going to be spread out over the first couple of days? If you accept the theory that you can’t do as much business in one day as you can in a day and a half – whether because of capacity or because people might have been able to go Tuesday who couldn’t go Wednesday for some reason – then they should not take as big a drop Thursday. They’ll be measuring one day against one day, where last time they were measuring one day against a day and a half. That plus the better playability of the sequel suggests they won’t drop 46% Thursday from Wednesday.”

In 1996, “Mission‘s” daily grosses for its first week in theaters were: Wednesday — $11.8 million; Thursday — $6.3 million; Friday — $13.1 million; Saturday — $16.7 million; Sunday — $15.6 million; Monday — $11.4 million; and Tuesday — $4.1 million. Its seven-day total was $79 million.

“If they follow the same trajectory, they’ll be ahead of $79 million,” an insider explains. “Obviously, they’re hoping they won’t drop 46% on Thursday because the sequel plays better than the first one. You’re dealing with such big numbers that the difference between a 35% drop Thursday and a 46% drop could ultimately be $15 million for the first week, in the sense that it follows a different trajectory.”

Directed by John Woo, “M:I-2” was produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner through their Cruise/Wagner production company, which also produced the 1996 blockbuster “Mission: Impossible.” Besides Cruise, the sequel stars Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Sherbedzija and Ving Rhames. It was written by Robert Towne and executive produced by Terence Chang and Paul Hitchcock.

“I think ‘Dinosaur‘ has the potential to do for the four days what it did last weekend for three days,” a distribution executive predicts. That would give the Buena Vista/Disney PG-rated computer animated feature $39-40 million and make it a solid Number Two in its second weekend.

Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton, it features such voices as D.B. Sweeney, Ossie Davis, Joan Plowright, Della Reese and Alfre Woodard.

“For pictures that play well, they tend to do on Memorial Day weekend what they did the previous (three-day) weekend,” an insiders says. “Obviously, a movie like ‘Mission‘ coming into the marketplace takes a big chunk of business – maybe not so much out of ‘Dinosaur,’ but out of ‘Gladiator.'”

If “Gladiator” takes a hit, the DreamWorks’ R-rated action adventure would finish third with $15-16 million in its fourth week. The film is half owned by Universal, which is releasing it internationally.

Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Russell Crowe.

DreamWorks’ R-rated youth appeal comedy “Road Trip” should come in fourth in its second weekend. “‘Road Trip,’ which opened to $15.5 million, ought to be able to do $12 million for the four days,” an executive speculates.

Directed by Todd Philips, it stars Breckin Meyer and Sean William Scott.

The holiday weekend’s only other new arrival, Buena Vista/Touchstone’s PG-13-rated action comedy “Shanghai Noon,” doesn’t kick off until Friday. Given its first-choice tracking of 7%, it isn’t likely to do better than fifth place with about $10 million at 2,711 theaters.

“It’s a 7% first choice for both males and females,” an insider notes. “Its best score is 10% with 18-20 year olds.”

Directed by Tom Dey, “Shanghai” stars Jackie Chan, Owen C. Wilson and Lucy Liu.

“That puts it in a category with (Buena Vista’s comedy) ‘Spy Hard,’ which opened to $10.4 million in third place for the four-day weekend against the first ‘Mission: Impossible,'” says one observer. That same weekend, Warner Bros.’ “Twister” was second with $38 million, which is in the same area as “Dinosaur” this time around.

“After ‘Shanghai Noon,’ you basically fall off the deep end,” a studio source points out. “‘Small Time Crooks’ may grab another $3 million. The rest is just a couple million here and there – for ‘U-571‘ and ‘Frequency‘ and ‘Battlefield Earth.'”

Written and directed by Woody Allen, the PG-rated comedy “Crooks” stars Allen, Tony Darrow, Hugh Grant, George Grizzard, Jon Lovitz, Elaine May, Michael Rapaport, Elaine Stritch and Tracey Ullman.

Warner Bros. and Franchise Pictures’ PG-13-rated sci-fi action adventure “Battlefield Earth” is directed by Roger Christian and stars John Travolta, Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker.

Universal’s PG-13-rated World War II submarine drama “U-571” is directed by Jonathan Mostow and stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.

New Line’s PG-13-rated time travel thriller “Frequency” is directed by Gregory Hoblit and stars Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel.

On the limited release front: Paramount Classics opens its PG-13-rated drama “Passion of Mind.”

Directed by Alain Berliner, it stars Demi Moore.


Looking back at Memorial Day weekends over nearly two decades, it’s clear that the holiday’s importance to Hollywood has grown by leaps and bounds.

Memorial Day began looking like a potentially big holiday as far back as 1982 when MGM/UA’s “Rocky III” starring Sylvester Stallone delive ed a $16 million knockout punch for four days at 939 theaters ($17,055 per theater). Hollywood hadn’t quite yet realized how a Wednesday opening could extend a holiday weekend’s impact, so “Rocky III” entered the ring on a Friday (May 28).

Rocky III” ran rings around everything else playing that weekend: 20th Century Fox’s suspense thriller “Visiting Hours” ($5.3 million), Universal’s action drama “Conan the Barbarian” ($5.2 million), Universal’s comedy “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” ($4.6 million) and Fox’s youth appeal comedy “Porky’s” ($4.5 million). Key films – those grossing at least $500,000 for the four days from May 28-31 – took in $49.9 million.

Only one year later, in 1983, Memorial Day box office history was being rewritten with Fox’s launch of George Lucas‘ third “Star Wars” film “Return of the Jedi.” This time, the action got underway on Wednesday, as “Jedi” blasted off to $30.5 million for four days (May 27-30) and $41.1 million for six days at 1,002 theaters.

Everything else playing was in a much lower orbit: Columbia’s action drama “Blue Thunder” ($6.2 million), Paramount’s romantic dance drama “Flashdance” ($4.7 million), Columbia’s sci-fi epic “Spacehunter” ($4.6 million) and Orion’s drama “Breathless” ($2.8 million). Key films grossed $61.4 million.

Jedi‘s” Memorial Day record only lasted until 1984, one year later, when Paramount’s adventure “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, kicked off on a Wednesday to $33.9 million for four days (May 25-28) and $42.3 million for six days at 1,687 theaters.

Nothing else came close: TriStar’s drama “The Natural” ($6.9 million), Cannon and MGM/UA’s dance film “Breakin‘” ($4.1 million), Fox’s adventure drama “Romancing the Stone” ($4.1 million) and Universal’s youth appeal comedy “16 Candles” ($2.9 million). Key films took in $67.3 million.

Memorial Day 1985 wasn’t nearly as strong as it had been in ’84. TriStar’s adventure sequel “Rambo: First Blood 2” starring Sylvester Stallone finished first with $25.5 million. With 2,074 theaters, it was the widest release Memorial Day had ever seen to that point.

By 1985 Hollywood was beginning to see the value of being in the Memorial Day marketplace. Unlike past years, when only one big new film had opened for the long weekend, 1985 brought a Friday opening for MGM/UA’s James Bond adventure “A View To A Kill” ($13.3 million) and a Wednesday launch for Universal’s comedy “Brewster’s Millions” ($9.6 million for four days and $11.5 million for six days). Rounding out the top five were Paramount’s long running “Beverly Hills Cop” ($2.9 million) and Warner Bros.’ comedy “Police Academy 2” ($1.5 million). Key films grossed $63.6 million from May 24-27.

Memorial Day 1986 saw a big downturn in holiday ticket sales. Cannon/Warner Bros.’ opening of the action adventure “Cobra” starring Sylvester Stallone was first with an unexciting $15.7 million at 2,131 theaters for four days.

MGM/UA’s opening of its horror sequel “Poltergeist II” was a strong second with $12.4 million at 1,596 theaters. Others in the top five were: Paramount’s “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise, which had opened a week earlier ($9.4 million), TriStar’s comedy “Short Circuit” ($5.5 million) and Universal’s comedy “Sweet Liberty” ($3.1 million). Key films took in $51.9 million from May 23-26.

Memorial Day ticket sales snapped back to life in 1987 with Paramount’s opening of “Beverly Hills Cop II” starring Eddie Murphy ($33.0 million for four days and $40.6 million for six days) at 2,326 theaters.

Second place went to Buena Vista’s launch of “Ernest Goes to Camp” ($6.2 million). Others in the top five: Universal’s comedy “The Secret of My Success” ($3.7 million), Columbia’s failed comedy “Ishtar” ($3.4 million) and New Century’s horror film “The Gate” ($2.9 million). Key films took in $62.2 million from May 22-25.

Memorial Day 1988 took a step backwards with Paramount’s opening of “Crocodile Dundee II” starring Paul Hogan ($24.5 million for four days and $29.2 million for six days) at 2,837 theaters. By 1988, studios were going much wider than ever before.

TriStar’s launch of “Rambo III” starring Sylvester Stallone was second with $16.7 million at 2,562 theaters ($21.2 million for six days). Also playing: MGM/UA’s George Lucas drama “Willow” ($7.6 million), Orion’s drama “Colors” ($2.4 million) and Warners’ Tim Burton classic “Beetlejuice” ($2.0 million). Key films grossed $63.1 million from May 27-30.

Memorial Day saw big-time success again in 1989 with Paramount’s opening of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” from Lucas/Spielberg with $37.0 million for four days and $46.9 million for six days at 2,327 theaters.

Nothing else stood a chance: TriStar’s thriller “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” ($6.1 million), Universal’s drama “Field of Dreams” ($5.7 million), UA’s youth comedy “Road House” ($5.0 million) and Warners’ opening of the drama “Pink Cadillac” starring Clint Eastwood ($4.4 million for four days). Key films mustered $69.5 million from May 26-29.

Memorial Day 1990 brought a downturn with Universal’s opening of “Back To the Future Part III” with $23.7 million for four days at 2,019 theaters.

Universal also occupied second place with “Bird On A Wire” starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn ($12.8 million), which had opened one week earlier.

Others in the top five: Buena Vista’s blockbuster “Pretty Woman” ($8.2 million), Orion’s comedy drama “Cadillac Man” starring Robin Williams ($6.5 million) and Buena Vista’s opening of its action drama “Fire Birds” starring Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones ($6.4 million for four days). Key films took in $69.8 million from May 25-28.

Memorial Day continued to drop in 1991 with Universal’s opening of Ron Howard’s drama “Backdraft” with $15.7 million for four days at 1,852 theaters. Second place went to Buena Vista’s comedy “What About Bob” ($11.2 million) and TriStar’s opening of the drama “Hudson Hawk” starring Bruce Willis was third ($7.1 million for four days at 2,071 theaters).

Rounding out the top five: MGM’s opening of the now classic drama “Thelma & Louise” starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis ($6.1 million for four days at 1,179 theaters) and Fox’s opening of its drama “Only the Lonely” ($6.0 million at 1,179 theaters for four days). Key films totaled $69.6 million from May 24-27.

Success was in the air again with Memorial Day 1992 as Warners took first place with “Lethal Weapon 3” starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover ($27.6 million at 2,510 theaters). Having opened a week earlier, its 11 day cume was $70.5 million.

Fox’s opening of “Alien 3” starring Sigourney Weaver was second with $23.1 million for four days at 2,227 theaters. Third place went to Universal’s opening of Ron Howard’s drama “Far and Away” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman ($12.9 million for four days at 1,583 theaters).

Rounding out the top five: Buena Vista’s opening of the comedy “Encino Man” starring Brendan Fraser ($9.9 million for four days at 2,050 theaters); and TriStar’s blockbuster thriller “Basic Instinct” starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone ($3.2 million). Key films accounted for $93.5 million from May 22-25, marking the first time the Memorial Day marketplace expanded within reach of $100 million.

Memorial Day 1993 brought yet another TriStar action adventure opening starring Sylvester Stallone – “Cliffhanger” with $20.5 million for four days at 2,333 theaters. Second place went to Warners’ opening of the comedy “Made In America” starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson ($11.8 million for four days at 2,048 theaters).

Warners’ comedy “Dave” was third ($8.9 million), followed by Buena Vista’s opening of the youth appeal drama “Super Mario Bros.” ($8.5 millio n for four days at 2,081 theaters) and Fox’s comedy sequel “Hot Shots! Part Deux” ($8.2 million). Key films retreated to $88.1 million from May 28-31.

Memorial Day ticket sales were on the rise again in 1994 with Universal’s launch of its comedy “The Flintstones” with $37.2 million for four days at 2,498 theaters. Warners’ second weekend of “Maverick” starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner was second ($18.6 million). Paramount’s opening of “Beverly Hills Cop III” starring Eddie Murphy was third with $15.3 million for four days and $18.8 million for six days at 2,748 theaters.

Also in the top five: Buena Vista’s drama “When A Man Loves A Woman” ($7.0 million) and Miramax’s suspense thriller “The Crow” ($6.6 million). Key films were once again pushing $100 million — with $95.2 million from May 27-30.

The marketplace expanded over Memorial Day 1995 although there wasn’t as much action in first place. Universal’s dramatic comedy “Casper” opened atop the chart with $22.1 million for four days at 2,714 theaters. Fox’s second weekend of “Die Hard With A Vengeance” starring Bruce Willis was second with $19.0 million. Paramount’s opening of “Braveheart” starring Mel Gibson took third place with $12.9 million for four days and $15.6 million for six days at 2,035 theaters.

Rounding out the top five: Buena Vista’s drama “Crimson Tide” ($12.8 million) and Sony’s comedy drama “Forget Paris” starring Billy Crystal and Debra Winger ($7.7 million). Key films cracked $100 million for the first time with $112.0 million for May 26-29.

Memorial Day 1996 really brought the holiday weekend into its own as Paramount launched “Mission: Impossible” to $56.8 million for four days and $74.9 million for six days (including Tuesday night previews) at 3,012 theaters. It was the widest release ever for a Memorial Day opening.

Warners’ disaster drama “Twister” was a solid second with $38.0 million in its third weekend. Buena Vista’s comedy “Spy Hard” opened in third place with $10.4 million for four days. Universal’s family film “Flipper” was fourth with $5.4 million. Fifth place went to Fox’s drama “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” ($2.7 million). Key films collected $124.99 million from May 24-27.

What was big in ’96 looked smaller a year later as Memorial Day 1997 saw Universal’s opening of Steven Spielberg‘s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” to $92.7 million at 3,281 theaters for four days (including its Thursday night previews).

Warners’ opening of the drama “Addicted to Love” was a distant second with $11.4 million for four days at 2,007 theaters. Sony’s sci-fi drama “The Fifth Element” was third ($8.0 million), followed by New Line’s comedy “Austin Powers” ($5.6 million) and Paramount’s drama “Breakdown” ($5.4 million). Key films did a hefty $142.9 million from May 23-26.

Memorial Day 1998 saw the marketplace contract again as Sony’s “Godzilla” opened in first place with $55.7 million for four days and $74.3 million for six days at 3,310 theaters. Paramount’s sci-fi disaster drama “Deep Impact” was second with $19.4 million in its third weekend.

Buena Vista’s drama “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott-Thomas was third with $14.5 million in its second weekend. Also in the top five: Fox’s satire “Bulworth” starring Warren Beatty ($10.5 million) and Warners’ animated feature “Quest For Camelot” ($6.3 million). Key films grossed $128.97 million from May 22-25.

Memorial Day 1999 was topped by Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace” from George Lucas with $66.9 million for four days at 3,023 theaters, bringing its cume to $207.1 million for 13 days.

Second place went to Universal’s opening of its romantic comedy drama “Notting Hill” starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant ($27.7 million for four days at 2,747 theaters). Universal also took third place with “The Mummy” ($12.9 million). Rounding out the top five: Fox’s romantic thriller “Entrapment” ($7.2 million) and Sony’s opening of its sci-fi thriller “The Thirteenth Floor” ($4.3 million for four days at 1,815 theaters). Key films took in $136.1 million from May 28-31.