Paramount Seized on a Big Platform for Limited ‘M:I4′ Bow — And It Worked

By building word-of-mouth in a small number of big screen theaters, the studio has positioned “M:I4″ to compete in a crowded tentpole field

Paramount’s decision to start "Mission: Impossible 4" small – albeit through large-format screenings – seems to be paying off.

The Tom Cruise tentpole came in third at the domestic box office, grossing $13 million in only 425 locations. When the movie opens wide this Tuesday after 5 p.m., it will have significant momentum behind it.

That was the point: By delivering a healthy number on a small number of screens — 425 is 11.5 percent of the 3,703 screens that the No. 1 "Sherlock Holmes" opened on last weekend — "M:I4" captured all kinds of buzz as it expands in a crowded field.

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The studio originally planned to open "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" in wide release Dec. 16, but changed its mind after Warner Bros. announced it was releasing "Sherlock Holmes — A Game of Shadows" on that day.

"We had to figure, do we want to go on the same date or do we want to move it?" Don Harris, Paramount's head of distribution, told TheWrap.

He said the studio hatched the limited release in part due to director Brad Bird’s enthusiasm about filming movie in IMAX.

The concept was, “this movie is, from a technical standpoint and from a visual standpoint, this thing is the next leap forward,” Harris said. “And we have got to find a way to let people know this isn't just another in the series of 'Mission: Impossibles.'"

Also read: 'Mission: Impossible' Matters Again With Gasp-Inducing 'Ghost Protocol'

“M:I4" debuted at 300 IMAX locations and 125 other large-format theaters.A bonus: At 50 of the IMAX theaters, audiences got to see a 6-minute prologue of "The Dark Knight Rises."

Greg Foster, chairman, filmed entertainment at the IMAX Corp., told TheWrap that the 300 IMAX theaters took in $11 million — an IMAX record for the month of December.

"When it works, it's really nice — and this is working," Foster told TheWrap. "Our 300 screens are a way to get the word out that this isn't just a regular movie."

The per-screen average was an exceptional $30,580.

"The goal of the whole experiment is to serve as a catalyst for the movie's overall success,” Foster said. “Based on the reaction this past weekend, it worked."

Still, Harris conceded it was a risky strategy, given the stakes of the movie – and the franchise – to the studio.

“It's not like risking on a small movie — not like 'Paranormal Activity,' where you take it out at midnight, try to see if it works. If it doesn't work, you're not out a lot of money,” Harris said.

“In this case, it's a very expensive movie."