Mission Impossible?: Can Tom Cruise Launch a Box-Office Franchise with ‘Jack Reacher’?

Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher" will battle for No. 2 with Judd Apatow's comedy "This Is 40," as "The Hobbit" will continue to dominate holiday box office

Last Updated: December 20, 2012 @ 2:56 PM

Paramount hopes it's launching a franchise with “Jack Reacher,” the Tom Cruise action thriller that hits theaters Friday.

It will be tricky in a crowded holiday marketplace, and Cruise isn’t the box-office bonanza he once was. But one need only look back to last year’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” to see how it might work. That film opened to $12 million on Dec. 16 and went on to make $209 million and nearly $700 million worldwide for Paramount.

“Jack Reacher” will be in about 3,200 theaters, and it will have plenty of competition. Universal’s Judd Apatow comedy “This Is 40” opens wide Friday, and Paramount’s ‘Guilt Trip” and Disney’s 3D re-release of “Monsters Inc.” opened Wednesday. 

Also read: 'Jack Reacher' Review: A Great/Terrible Stinker/Delight

A slew of limited releases, led by Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” along with this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes “Amour,” and tsunami survival tale “The Impossible” are also competing for moviegoers’ attention, along with a number of holdover hits.

No movie, though, will come close to catching reigning box-office champ “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which remains in more than 4,000 theaters. Peter Jackson’s latest Middle-earth epic will take in north of $40 million, industry analysts say, with “Jack Reacher” and “This Is 40” battling for second with less than half of that.

Warner Bros.’ “Hobbit” has rolled to $106 million in the U.S. since opening to $85 million last weekend. Its international total — $188 million as of Thursday – is even bigger.

Also read: Why 'The Hobbit' Will Be Biggest Tolkien Tale Ever at the Box Office

In "Jack Reacher," Cruise plays an ex-military investigator; the film is based on bestselling author Lee Child's novel "One Shot” and written for the screen and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. It’s from David Ellison’s Paramount-based Skydance Productions and was produced for about $60 million by Cruise, Don Granger, Paula Wagner and Gary Levinsohn.

Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins co-star in the PG-13 crime thriller, which has a 53 percent positive rating at Movie Review Intelligence.

No is expecting “Jack Reacher” to match “MI:4” at the box office. The Reacher novels have a following, but nowhere near that of the “Mission Impossible" franchise. Cruise’s recent box-office record has been uneven, and the film's Facebook and Twitter activity is not particularly strong.

“Jack Reacher” could wind up playing more like Cruise's “Knight and Day,” which opened to $20 million and went on to make $76 million for Fox in 2010, or “Valkyrie,” which did $83 million in 2008 after opening to $21 million. Cruise was critically lauded for his foray earlier this year as an aging rock icon in the musical “Rock of Ages,” but that was one of the year’s bigger box-office duds.

“Jack Reacher” should play strongly with action fans, but Cruise’s personal problems could limit its broader appeal.

“I can’t imagine his divorce from Katie Holmes and the custody battle hasn’t hurt him some with women,” BoxOffice.com vice president and chief analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap Thursday. “Actions fans will come out, but going beyond that demographic is going to be tough for him.”

On the other hand, Universal says that it tracking suggests “This Is 40” will do quite well with women — and women over 25 in particular.

Also read: 'This Is 40' Review: A Little Heavy on the White Whine

“This Is 40,” is, as the marketing campaign points out, a “sort of sequel” to Apatow’s  “Knocked Up,” which opened to $30 million and went on to make nearly $150 million five years ago. Like “This Is 40,” that one was written and directed by Apatow and starred Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann.

“40” is the fourth film Apatow has directed, all for Universal (“Funny People” and “40-Year-Old Virgin” are the other two). The ensemble cast also features Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham.

It's R-rated and has a 62 percent positive rating at Movie Review Intelligence. The production budget was $35 million.

“This looks like the strongest comedy of the season,” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations told TheWrap, “but it’s still a bit of a wild card. It’s going to connect with the New York and L.A. crowds; the key will be whether the Heartland audiences embrace it or see it as a little too hip. It will take time to tell, because of the season.”

Films released at this time of year tend to open lower because the marketplace is so crowded — by Friday, 11 new films will have hit opened this week — and the fact that many potential moviegoers are districted by shopping and other holiday preps. On the other hand, they often show lasting power and make up what they don’t take in on the weekend with stronger showings on the weekdays.

“Things could well come in lower than people are expecting across the board this weekend,” Bock said, “but look for many of these movies to make it up over the holidays.”

Summit will be looking for that kind of slow build on “The Impossible,” the English-language film from Spain based on a true story about a family’s fight to survive the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, who received a Best Actress nomination from SAG recently, star.

Summit is releasing it Friday in 15 theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. The plan is to go nationwide early next year.

Also read: 'The Impossible' Review: It's a Horrifying Tsunami, and You Are There

“The Impossible” already has taken in $52 million in Spain, the home of the real-life couple upon whom the story is based as well as director Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Orphanage”) and screenwriter Sergio Sanchez.

Other limited rollouts set for Friday include Paramount’s 3D concert film “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” in 800 theaters; “On the Road,” IFC Films' adaptation of the Jack Kerouac’s beat generation novel, in four theaters; and “Not Fade Away,” the Paramount Vantage tale of a group of 1960 New Jersey friends launching a rock band, written and directed by “Sopranos” creator David Chase, in three locations.

Sony’s “Zero Dark Thirty," about the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, got off to a terrific start Wednesday. It racked up $124,848 from five theaters in its first day of release. That's an average of $24,969, making it one of the biggest limited mid-week openings in history.