ethanWhile 20th Century Fox is the studio sweating it out hoping Knight and Day overcomes lackluster tracking to turn in respectable 5-day opening numbers, Paramount brass is paying close attention. That’s because the studio just received the screenplay for the new Mission: Impossible 4 penned by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec. I’ve learned that Brad Grey and Rob Moore are reading the script over the next few days and figuring out the preliminary budget next week on the Brad Bird-directed fourquel. Cruise reprises his Ethan Hunt role and produces with MI3 director JJ Abrams. But what effect if any will Knight and Day’s box office have on the new pic? Paramount insiders tell me no decisions have been made yet. But Hollywood has been buzzing that the studio might kill MI4 if Knight doesn’t connect with audiences despite Cruise’s action hero character.

paramountlogoWhat are Paramount’s choices? The studio could choose not to accept the mission, but that seems next to impossible after all the development that’s already gone into this still viable franchise. Especially after Paramount repaired its fractured relationship with Tom around this film and just committed to a film with his Les Grossman character. Plus, Cruise made what I hear is a reasonable deal to get the film off the ground, and there is a risk-sharing partner in exec producer David Ellison and his Skydance banner. More importantly, MI4 is a big film for Abrams’ Bad Robot, one of the most important producers on the Paramount lot right now. 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 $398 million worldwide, while MI2 grossed $546.4 million. MI4 is schedule for release December 16, 2011, so those decisions will be made shortly.