"Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" headed into the weekend with expectations of a $40-million opening in the U.S. and Canada, but Paramount Pictures on Sunday reported that its Tom Cruise film actually brought in an estimated $56 million.
The film racked up $20.3 million in ticket sales Friday, and positive word of mouth propelled it through the weekend.
"We knew that we had a great movie," said Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of domestic marketing and distribution. "We made a decision at the end of January for this movie to open in the summer, but they were still shooting the movie way into spring. It was a Herculean effort to get this movie out. ... I think it really paid off."
The film, from Paramount and Skydance Productions, earned an A-minus grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore and a 93% positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. About 62% of the audience was male, and 81% was 25 or older.
"Rogue Nation" logged the second biggest opening for the five films in the franchise, trailing only the $57.8-million opening for "Mission: Impossible II" in 2000. "Rogue Nation" also is Cruise's third best domestic opening ever, behind "War of the Worlds" in 2005 ($64.9 million) and "Mission: Impossible II."
Cruise heavily promoted the new film, for which he also served as a producer. Colligan said a lot of the film's success also goes to director Christopher McQuarrie.
"While all the movies in the franchise share the same pace and have certain similarity and brand recognition, there's the flair and touch the director brings to it that makes it special," Colligan said.
Imax grosses made up 15% of the domestic gross for "Rogue Nation."
"Rogue Nation" made an additional $65 million in 40 other countries this weekend, including Mexico, Britain, Australia and South Korea. It is scheduled to open in China on Sept. 8. The four previous installments of the franchise have combined ticket sales of more than $2 billion worldwide.
Meanwhile, the comedy "Vacation," which rolled out in theaters Tuesday night, fell slightly short of tracking expectations. It earned $14.9 million Friday through Sunday, for a cumulative gross of $21.2 million since its release.
"We had hoped that we would open at a higher level, but I think we might get there, just at a longer play," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' executive vice president and general sales manager. "There's still a lot of headroom left in the summer, particularly before college kids go back to school."
The film, which is being released by Warner Bros.' New Line Cinema label, is a sort of reboot of 1983's "National Lampoon's Vacation." It follows the next generation of the Griswold family, played by Ed Helms (from "The Hangover" films), Christina Applegate and others. It was written and directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis, who also penned the popular summer 2011 comedy "Horrible Bosses."
So far, the R-rated comedy has been played better with audiences, who gave it a B on CinemaScore, than with critics. "Vacation" did particularly well in the South and Midwest, and top-grossing theaters were in Tulsa, Okla.; Oklahoma City; Orlando, Fla.; and San Antonio.
"Clearly we knew there was brand equity with an older audience, but we were going after the younger, uninitiated audience," Goldstein said. "What was clear as the week went on was that the core younger audience really started to grow."
An estimated 53% of the audience was female, and 52% was younger than 35.
Marvel's "Ant-Man" finished third in its third weekend, adding $12.6 million to its domestic haul. To date, the film has made about $132 million in the U.S. and Canada and is expected to pass the $300-million mark globally after adding another $32.6 million overseas this weekend.
In fourth place, Universal Pictures' animated hit "Minions" added about $12.2 million, raising its domestic total to $287.3 million. The film's worldwide ticket sales have hit $854.6 million.
Sony's "Pixels" rounded out the top five, falling 57% in its second weekend. It added $10.4 million, bringing its domestic haul to $45.6 million.
The overall box office finished lower than the same weekend a year ago, when "Guardians of the Galaxy" opened with a surprisingly strong $94.3 million. Some analysts expect this August will be slower than the rest of the summer because fewer anticipated titles are on deck.
Year-to-date, however, the domestic box office is up about 8%.