Don't be fooled by the MTV audience's positive reaction to the dancing, crazy, fat-suited Tom Cruise because outside of that quickly greenlit Les Grossman movie, the recent goodwill isn't really an indicator on whether Cruise can still be called a legitimate box office star. The real test takes place over the next few days as 20th Century Fox's expensive actioner Knight & Day is unleashed on North American screens. As I mentioned last week, the movie is tracking poorly. Most estimates reckon it'll take home around $30 million between Thurs-Mon, which granted would have been a handsome total had the movie been greenlit as originally pitched but once Cruise boarded, costs spiraled to over $100 million! Fox probably would have liked another $10-15 million at minimum, and if it does take $30 million over the next five days, huge question marks will continue to float over the head of Cruise's viable A-list status. According to Deadline tonight, another studio who will be concerned if Knight & Day returns that kind of total is Paramount Pictures, who timely enough (wisely planned) have seen Alias writers Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec's screenplay for Mission Impossible IV fall into their offices today. Paramount execs Brad Grey and Rob Moore will be reading the script over the next few days and will be number crunching out a budget for MI:IV, which depending on Knight & Day, may be heavily scaled back and perhaps, might even become a Cruise-less movie. The latter though is unlikely as dropping Cruise might cost them producer J.J. Abrams and popular helmer Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and after Paramount pushed through the Les Grossman movie and recently patching up their shaky relationship with Cruise, this would seem to be a choice impossible. Mike Fleming writes;
Paramount could downsize the budget, but how much can you cut back from the $150 million mark that seems to be the going rate for action franchises, and still make MI4 look like past installments? I'm hearing the most likely course of action is for the studio to beef up the subplot that introduces a new and younger agent who becomes Hunt's protege. The studio could then turn the franchise into more of a two-hander than the Mission: Impossible films traditionally have been.Mission Impossible 3 grossed just under $400 million worldwide in 2006, a total which was actually seen as a disappointment at Paramount and was one of the contributing factors in Cruise losing his lucrative contract deal at the studio. If Knight & Day fails to reach $100 million domestic, Paramount will almost certainly treat MI:IV with caution. The movie is currently set to shoot late summer for a Dec 16th, 2011 release and the major decisions on the film will be made over the coming weeks.