Everyone is expecting a same-day box office battle between ‘Barbie’ (Warner Bros.) and ‘Oppenheimer’ (Universal) on July 21st, but the real contest may lie between ‘Oppenheimer’ and a movie coming out 10 days earlier, Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount Pictures, July 12).
A new report to Puck claimed Cruise personally called executives and exhibitors at rival studios in hopes of getting them to drop premium large-format (PLF) screens who may have planned to show “Oppenheimer” and show “M:I 7” instead. In addition to the visual impact these screens provide, they also have a premium that can add millions to the box office, especially for an action spectacle like a seventh ‘Mission: Impossible’ film.
Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” his first Universal film after parting ways with longtime partner Warner Bros., will take over all IMAX screens in North America for three weeks, knocking “Mission: Impossible” from auditoriums. (Unlike “M:I 7,” “Oppenheimer” was filmed entirely on IMAX large-format cameras.) Audiences will line up to see the Oscar-nominated director’s reconstruction of an atomic bomb without CGI on the screen as large as possible. Cruise’s death-defying stunts in which he once again outdoes himself will also want to be seen in large format. (We also note that “Oppenheimer’s running time tops out at 3 hours; the new ‘Mission: Impossible’ tops out at 2 hours 43 minutes.)
Universal and Paramount declined to comment. Warner Bros. Discovery (which distributes “Barbie”) was not returning calls as of press time. Cruise’s rep also did not comment.
Universal and Christopher Nolan claimed the July 21, 2023 date in October 2021 when the studio announced production on the film. Nolan’s fondness for the Third Friday in July is also well established: It’s been a favorite date for him since “The Dark Knight” in 2008.
For Cruise, it seems like it’s not the same as a “no.” It’s not unusual for a producer to aggressively screen a film for exhibitors, but it’s surprising for a star producer to make personal pleas to retake movie screens.
An IMAX rep told IndieWire that they are fully committed to the three-week “Oppenheimer” plan, which makes up about 1,550 of IMAX’s 1,700 total venues worldwide. (The atomic bomb epic still awaits dates in major markets China and Japan.) An IMAX acquisition of this length is rare, though the company prioritizes films shot with its own cameras (such as “Oppenheimer”). ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ ran on IMAX screens for eight weeks starting last December, while ‘Dune: Part One’, also with an HBO Max day-and-date release, ran for three in 2021 .
Tickets for “Oppenheimer” went on sale yesterday, just days after the film about the creator of the atomic bomb received an R rating (Nolan’s first since 2002’s “Insomnia” and 2000’s “Memento”). That could make it one of the largest IMAX openings ever for an R-rated film. “Oppenheimer” comes with 11 miles of film and a production price tag of $100 million before printing and advertising expenses.
At CinemaCon 2023, Paramount exhibitors revealed that the new ‘Mission: Impossible’ would actually open two days earlier than planned, instead on July 12, in an effort to boost theater attendance and word of mouth as the summer movie season rolls in . full swing. Tickets for ‘M:I 7’ haven’t gone on sale yet, but both films will need all the PLF help they can get
After multiple production shutdowns due to COVID, production costs for “M:I 7” total $290 million for Paramount. The previous film in the franchise, 2018’s ‘Fallout’ grossed $791 million worldwide on a $178 million budget.
Protecting those IMAX and PLF screens made a huge difference for something like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which earned over $100 million of its $2 billion total from IMAX screens alone.
And while Cruise’s box office haul for “Top Gun Maverick” ($1.493 billion worldwide) is in a league of its own, he was able to get away with it in part because he had little competition at the box office. Cruise definitely has a chip on his shoulder; even Steven Spielberg told him earlier this year that he “saved Hollywood’s ass” with the “Top Gun” sequel after it became the biggest post-pandemic grosser before “Avatar: The Way of Water “. That said, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was kicked out of premium venues two weeks later by ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ (Universal).
The press round ahead of the summer movie season has been that the same date “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” will be the double-header to beat. But “Oppenheimer” and “M:I 7” arguably tick more boxes in four-quadrant audience appeal, especially among fanboys. “Dead Reckoning” is sure to follow a similar trajectory to “Top Gun: Maverick,” but it faces a much busier summer.
Tony Maglio and Tom Brueggemann contributed to the reporting.