Having a No. 1 film just isn't enough when you're Tom Cruise and you're trying to live up to your own image as Hollywood's most bankable star.
Every film studio professional expected "Mission: Impossible III" to be tops at the box office this weekend -- and it was -- but the $48 million it took at theaters just wasn't enough to call it the blockbuster that would have quelled speculation that the public had grown tired of the 43-year-old star.
"The biggest surprise across the industry and the media seems to be 'Mission: Impossible III' performing below expectations," Brandon Gray, founder of Boxofficemojo.com, told ABC Radio.
Six years ago, "Mission: Impossible II" enjoyed a three-day Memorial Day weekend opening of $58 million.
"Adjusted for ticket price inflation, that's closer to $70 million today," Gray said. "And that means 'Mission: Impossible III' represents a 30 percent decrease in actual attendance."
The movie nonetheless vanquished the competition, with the Robin Williams comedy "R.V." coming in second at $11 million. Cruise would not have expected his movie to be the No. 2 opening of the year, behind the animated feature, "Ice Age: The Meltdown," which earned $68 million when it opened a month ago.
Paramount Studios told The Associated Press that it had expectations of a debut in the $50 million range, but it was gratified by the international showing, where it earned $70 million after opening virtually worldwide except Japan and India. The movie did poorly in Germany, where Cruise has historically had a tough time, the studio said.
Cruise, who also serves as a producer for the $160 million film, is being paid in large part on a percentage of the gross. A similar arrangement on the last spy thriller netted the star an estimated $75 million.
Controversy and overexposure in the tabloid media may have hurt Cruise -- who has starred in more than a dozen films that have grossed more than $100 million domestically. In the past, Cruise has also proven popular internationally with "War of the Worlds" and "Mission: Impossible II" earning $591 million and $543 million outside the United States, making them among the highest grossing films ever produced.
Cruise's tabloid exploits, highlighted by his couch-jumping escapade on Oprah Winfrey's show last year, his war of words with Brooke Shields over treatment for postpartum depression, and his role promoting the Church of Scientology may have impacted his star power.
Paramount went to great lengths to try to make Cruise's third "Mission" a success. Last year's best actor Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman joined the cast as a bomb-dealing villain, and "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams served as director.
At his zenith in the mid-1990s, Cruise was box office gold, becoming the first actor in Hollywood history to reel off five films that reached triple digits, with a magical run that included "A Few Good Men," "The Firm," "Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles," "Mission: Impossible" and "Jerry Maguire."