Should 'Mission: Impossible 4' Move?

by Brandon Gray

June 8, 2011

Two high-profile action sequels with awkward subtitles are on a collision course this holiday season: both Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows are scheduled for Dec. 16 (opposite Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, which shouldn't conflict with either one). Mission's studio Paramount Pictures and Sherlock's Warner Bros. reiterated to Box Office Mojo that they're each sticking with Dec. 16.

While comparable movies can thrive in the same period, especially during a bustling time like December, it can be a problem when they open on the same day. Usually, somebody flinches. Otherwise, there's possible cannibalization or the lesser movie suffers.

To solve this potential problem, it would be good for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol to move out of the way of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (if it's completed in time). Sure, Mission 4 scheduled the Dec. 16 date first (pushed back from May 27), but it's the more vulnerable movie. It's attempting to revive the franchise, whereas Sherlock 2 is coming off of a $209-million grossing predecessor from December 2009 (opposite the last Chipmunks movie) and will feature Holmes' most famous villain Moriarty.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol follows the disappointing Mission: Impossible III, which opened in May 2006 and made $134 million, by far the weakest of the Mission movies. The Mission franchise also has a history of delays: the first Mission: Impossible was originally set for Nov. 1995 but was pushed back to May 1996, while Mission: Impossible II went from Dec. 1999 to May 2000.

It's not too late for Ghost Protocol to make a change. Its marketing campaign hasn't even begun in earnest yet. So where should it be slotted to get the best chance at realizing its box office potential?

The past three Mission: Impossible movies all had May debuts, but rekindling the franchise may mean opening at a different time of year. Besides, May 2012 is already well-stocked, though Battleship seems vulnerable on May 18. (Speaking of which, why isn't Paramount/DreamWorks Animation setting Madagascar 3 for May 18? Currently, it's at June 8, two weeks before Pixar's Brave. May has no family movies now.)

The most obvious option is for Ghost Protocol to be pushed forward to Dec. 9 (opposite romantic comedy New Year's Eve and comedy The Sitter) or to Dec. 2, which has nothing yet scheduled. Dec. 2 is the historical post-Thanksgiving death slot, which is why it's empty, but Mission star Tom Cruise has had success there in the past: The Last Samurai debuted on that presumably cursed weekend back in 2003 to $24.7 million and ended its run with $111.1 million, very good numbers for its genre. Dec. 2 or Dec. 9 would give Ghost Protocol some time to establish itself in the market and still be a presence for Christmas.

But perhaps a bolder, off-season move would suit Ghost Protocol better. If the movie's ready in time, a Fall launch might shake things up (Paramount has nothing scheduled for September). January might work as well, as it did for The Green Hornet, which performed above realistic expectations. January may be seen as a ghetto and beneath someone of Cruise's stature, but another January action thriller, Taken, was a reminder that an appealing movie can succeed at any time of the year.

Scanning the release schedule, though, reveals another golden opportunity: April 2012. After Easter, that month is currently wide open: April 13 just has Lockout and Movie 43 (working title), April 20 only has DisneyNature's Chimpanzee, and there's nothing on April 27. By opening mid-April, Ghost Protocol would have breathing room between Clash of the Titans 2 on Mar. 30 and The Avengers on May 4.

The Fast and the Furious franchise paved the way for such a move. After Tokyo Drift stalled, the fourth movie shifted to April (from the franchise's previous June dates) and saw franchise-high grosses. Fast Five built on this momentum last April. The notion of getting a jump on the summer is no longer a joke.

Roadblocks to an April launch include co-star Jeremy Renner and the Untitled Star Trek Sequel. Renner plays Hawkeye in The Avengers, so there may be a publicity conflict there. Paramount also has Renner in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters on Mar. 2, and the studio might want Ghost Protocol out first to pump him up before that movie. Additionally, Renner's joining another spy franchise with The Bourne Legacy, due Aug. 3, 2012. There's also a question as to whether or not the Star Trek sequel will be ready in time for its June 29, 2012, date, and Ghost Protocol could be enlisted to fill in. But then the Knight & Day comparisons would arise, and Ghost Protocol may not be strong enough for that summer slot (The Amazing Spider-Man opens just a few days later) like the ascendant Star Trek.

Recommendation: If Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol delivers in terms of story and execution, then it should be given the chance to shine. This franchise is damaged goods and needs to rebuild to become a primetime player again. Mid-April 2012 seems like its best shot, followed by early December. This, of course, would all be moot if Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows doesn't make its date.

Related Stories:
6/3/10 - 'Sherlock Holmes 2' to Face-Off with 'Mission 4' and 'Chipmunks 3'
5/6/10 - 'Mission: Impossible 4' Moves Back
5/6/06 - 'Mission: Impossible III' Doesn't Thrill

Related Chart:
'Mission: Impossible' Franchise

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