Mission Impossible: Box office decline

In  (almost) 30 year career, 13% of his time Tom Cruise has spent trying to complete impossible missions. The fact that he succeeds in it repeatedly, both on screen (he does his own stunts) and at the box office (which he benefits from personally as one of the series producers) raises the question,  how impossible is it? maybe by wearing these two  hats , he has figured out the right formula for success. But how good are these movies doing?

A short disclaimer before the statistics: The fourth part, Ghost Protocol from 2011 had an initial limited release on December 18th, on 425 screens – a relative small number of the films and to blockbusters in general . This didn’t prevent it from ranking 3rd at that weekend, with a gross higher than 50% from the following film, though the later was distributed in 825% more screens. Of course the film received a wide distribution the following week ( 3455 screens) , yet this affects the calculations. That is why the film has 3 occurrences: Limited, full and combined.


  If we disregard the unique situation of Ghost protocol it seems as if the films have all grossed similar amounts.  But this is without considering inflation, which  has substantial affect in a vast of 19 years (between the first and most recent) . But inflation is only one attribute that changes over time, others can be: number of screens the film was shown, the total amount people spent on money that weekend etc. 

This chart shows the percentage each films has from the entire box office sells of the first weekend of its release. The performance of the first and second films is even more impressing when looking at its main competition: Twister and Shanghai Noon respectively. While the third and the fifth competed with comedy road films for the entire family (RV and Vacation). Here Ghost Protocol‘s situation can also  be explained by the fact that it had two major competitors Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

While the gross revenue can tell us something about the audience’s attitude, the number of screens a film is shown at can tell us something about either the distributor’s or the film theater’s owners confident in the film.


Here we can see that the first two films in the series got the highest share of screens in the weekend they came out.  It is interesting to mention that for all 5 films, when considering only the top 10 places, the percentages rise between 10-50%. 

Average gross per screen is a well used measure for evaluating a films box office performance.  In this chart, the distortion caused because of Ghost Protocol unique distribution tactic is very clear. When removed, leaving only  the combined figure, it is clear that the series was at a decline since its first day, only “saved”  by the current installment. 

It might be that the best way to measure a films success is looking differently on what these numbers mean. I want to suggest the following: consider a film’s average gross per screen as a percent of the average gross per screen that weekend.  This figure represents a film’s strength compered to all the performances that week. 

Unlike Ethan Hunt, it might be that Cruise will find an impossible mission (let alone reaching the magical 100 Million dollars). Yet its important to remember that today, a film’s foreign box office success has much more importance than 10 or 20 years ago. It will be wise to decides the franchise’s future until all the results are available (and besides, Paramount  already confirmed the next mission)


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