Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission: Impossible’ Trying to Kick Christopher Nolan Off of Premium Screens

Everyone expects a same-day box-office battle between “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) and “Oppenheimer” (Universal) on July 21, but the real contention may lie between “Oppenheimer” and a film that opens 10 days earlier, Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount Pictures, July 12).

A new report in Puck claimed that Cruise has personally called rival studio executives and exhibitors in hopes of convincing them to relinquish PLF (premium large-format) screens that may have planned to show “Oppenheimer” and show “M:I 7” instead. Beyond the visual impact those screens provide, they also come with an upcharge that can add millions to the box office — especially for an action spectacle like a seventh “Mission: Impossible” movie.

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Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” his first film for Universal after parting ways with longtime partner Warner Bros., will take over all IMAX screens in North America for three weeks, bumping “Mission: Impossible” from auditoriums. (Unlike “M:I 7,” “Oppenheimer” was shot entirely on IMAX large-format cameras.) Audiences will line up to see the Oscar-nominated filmmaker’s recreation of an atomic bomb without CGI on the biggest screen possible. Cruise’s death-defying stunts in which he once again outdoes himself will, too, want to be seen in large formats. (Let’s also note that “Oppenheimer’s running time hits 3 hours; the new “Mission: Impossible” clocks in at 2 hours and 43 minutes.)

Universal and Paramount declined comment. Warner Bros. Discovery (which distributes “Barbie”) did not respond to calls at press time. Cruise’s representative also had no comment.

Universal and Christopher Nolan claimed the July 21, 2023 date all the way back in October 2021 — back when the studio announced the film’s production. Nolan’s fondness for the third Friday in July is also well-established: It’s been a favored date for him ever since the days of “The Dark Knight” in 2008.

For Cruise, it seems that’s not the same thing as a “no.” It’s not unusual for a producer to aggressively screen a movie for exhibitors, but it’s surprising to have a producer-star personally make entreaties to win back movie screens.

An IMAX representative told IndieWire they’re fully committed to the three-week “Oppenheimer” plan, which constitutes about 1,550 of IMAX’s total 1,700 venues worldwide. (The atomic bomb epic still awaits dates in top markets China and Japan.) An IMAX takeover of this length is rare, although the company prioritizes films shot on 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,” even with a day-and-date HBO Max release, ran for three in 2021.

Tickets for “Oppenheimer” went on on sale yesterday, days after the movie about the creator of the atomic bomb received an R rating (Nolan’s first since 2002’s “Insomnia” and 2000’s “Memento” before it). That might make it one of the widest IMAX openings for an R-rated movie ever. “Oppenheimer” comes with 11 miles of film stock and a $100 million production price tag ahead of print and advertising spends.

At CinemaCon 2023, Paramount exhibitors revealed that the new “Mission: Impossible” would actually open two days earlier than scheduled, on July 12 instead, in an effort to drum up premium theater attendance and word-of-mouth as the summer movie season hits full swing. Tickets haven’t gone on sale for “M:I 7” yet, but both movies will need all the PLF help they can get

After multiple COVID shutdowns on production, “M:I 7” production costs come in at $290 million for Paramount. The prior film in the franchise, “Fallout” from 2018, made $791 million worldwide on a budget of $178 million.

Securing those IMAX and PLF screens made a big difference for something like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which made over $250 million of its $2 billion total from IMAX screens alone.

And while Cruise’s box-office haul for “Top Gun Maverick” ($1.493 billion globally) is in a league of its own, it was able to leg out in part because it had little box-office competition. Cruise surely 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 largest post-pandemic grosser prior to “Avatar: The Way of Water.” That said, “Top Gun: Maverick” was pushed out of premium venues two weeks later by “Jurassic World Dominion” (Universal).

The press spin 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” will surely follow a similar trajectory as “Top Gun: Maverick,” but it faces a much more crowded summer.

Tony Maglio and Tom Brueggemann contributed reporting.

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