B.O. ANALYSIS: ‘Mission’ Memorial

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 percent 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 percent first choice when it opened, and last year’s “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace” was a 43 percent 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 percent, 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 percent 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 percent on Thursday because the sequel plays better than the first one. You’re dealing with such big numbers that the difference between a 35 percent drop Thursday and a 46 percent 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 Sherbedgia 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 percent, it isn’t likely to do better than fifth place with about $10 million at 2,711 theaters.

“It’s a 7 percent first choice for both males and females,” an insider notes. “Its best score is 10 percent 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.