UPDATED: Box Office Mojo on Sunday confirmed my info from rival studio estimates: Paramount’s MI3 will gross only a disappointing $47.4 million for this opening weekend. That’s way down from the pre-Friday estimates of $63 million from 4,054 theaters. After Friday’s numbers came in, I was told by rival studios that MI3 would end the opening weekend with mid-$40 millions — $45 mil-to-$46 mil. That’s also much, much lower compared with MI2‘s 2000 gross of $57 mil for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday period and $71 mil over the 4-day Memorial Weekend. Friday night’s MI3 box office figure was only in the vicinity of $17 mil domestically, Saturday’s night’s 18.4 mil and Sunday’s estimated at a feeble $13 mil. So, is the disappointing box office Cruise’s fault? Or the movie’s fault? After all, reviews have been mixed. The big question I posed previously: Will MI3 Withstand Tom Cruise Cooling?

MI3 has been shaping up as referendum more than recreation. That’s because the opening box office numbers would gauge Tom Cruise’s viability given all that bad press he’s getting (most of it his doing). There’s always been an imbecilic debate in Hollywood whether bad pre-release buzz can harm a movie’s financial prospects. But that focused on the content or cost or production of the movie. MI3 had an altogether different dilemma focusing on Cruise personally: his Scientology, his girlfriend, his bizarre behavior. Today, Hollywood players told me they blamed Cruise for the poor MI3 opening.

The bad news is that young males can be fickle about action stars, and the tracking showed young females already had signs of Cruise fatigue. On the other hand, here was a proven film franchise (where the sequel was better than the original), a director known for commercial sensibility (J.J. Abrams), and, of course, Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as villain (but he doesn’t get enough face time in the film, and especially not enough face time opposite Tom). I foresaw there may be people who’ll make a statement by waiting to see MI3 on DVD or cable just to avoid putting first-dollar theater gross in Cruise’s already obese wallet (since he’s not only the star but also the producer). Still, as much as Cruise’s career may be down around his ankles, I was confident the May 5th opening wouldn’t be Waterworld redux. It would follow the summer pattern: the earlier a film is released in May, the better the box office. But, in the final analysis, MI3‘s first weekend was near disastrous.