LOS ANGELES - The world's most famous movie star, his personal life settling down with the happily overhyped birth of his daughter, and the long-awaited third flick in his action franchise - it all sounds like a fine kickoff for Hollywood's summer season, which gets under way Friday with the debut of Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible III."
It's the first of a rush of big movies expected to get the industry off and running after 2005's dismal summer.
"It looks like there's a blockbuster every single week from this point forward," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution at 20th Century Fox, which scored the year's biggest hit so far with "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and has "X-Men: The Last Stand" debuting over Memorial Day weekend.
The two weekends between the "Mission: Impossible" and "X-Men" sequels brings one of the year's most anticipated films, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code," along with "Poseidon," a remake of "The Poseidon Adventure," and "Over the Hedge," the latest animated comedy from the makers of "Shrek."
During the lackluster summer of 2005, domestic movie revenues were $3.6 billion, off 9 percent from the year before, while attendance tumbled 12 percent (factoring in higher ticket prices).
Studio executives generally blamed a weak film lineup, though many conceded that competition from video games, home-entertainment systems and other new technology was making it harder to lure people out to the movies.
"There was a lot of discussion about the quality of the films, the malaise about whether people wanted to go to the movies. I think it was a combination of all those factors," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, whose upcoming summer releases include Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's romantic comedy "The Break-Up" and Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell's cop thriller "Miami Vice."
"But now they're back in a moviegoing mode," Rocco said.
Revenues for all of 2005 were $8.95 billion, down 5 percent, while attendance fell 8 percent with just under 1.4 billion tickets sold, but Hollywood has rebounded this year.
Receipts are running 7 percent ahead of last year's and attendance is up 3.5 percent, though business still lags behind 2004's, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. Revenues are up 1 percent this year compared to 2004, while attendance is down 5 percent.
"Mission: Impossible III" should continue to push Hollywood's business up. Over the same weekend last year, the Crusades saga "Kingdom of Heaven" debuted with an anemic $19.6 million, pacing the top-12 movies to just $78.5 million.
That was a paltry take for early May, which has become Hollywood's unofficial kickoff for summer with such flicks as "Spider-Man," "X2: X-Men United," "Gladiator" and "The Mummy" movies.
This weekend, "Mission: Impossible III" alone could rake in nearly as much as the top-12 movies combined a year ago. "Mission: Impossible II" had a $57.8 million debut weekend in late May six years ago, and the new sequel could do more. Cruise had his biggest debut ever last summer with $64.9 million for "War of the Worlds."
Normally guarded about his private life, Cruise puzzled people with his suddenly overt professions of love for sweetheart Katie Holmes, which included a public announcement of their engagement at the Eiffel Tower and a giddy interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he jumped up and down on a couch.
Yet Cruise's durability seems as solid as ever, and fans feverishly followed Holmes' pregnancy and last month's birth of their baby.
"He's arguably the most bankable star in the world," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "I would say `War of the Worlds' last year was a really good test case, because remember, that movie was released in the immediate wake of the Oprah jumping on the couch incident and that time frame. That gave Cruise his biggest opening weekend ever.
"So you've got to say, the guy is Teflon-coated when it comes to his ability to bring in an audience, regardless of his public persona."
"Mission: Impossible III" could launch Hollywood on one of its best months ever. After "Kingdom of Heaven" last year, May's box office continued to falter with the so-so comedies "Kicking and Screaming" and "Monster-in-Law."
It was not until the final "Star Wars" movie hit in mid-May that Hollywood's summer got rolling, and the industry never managed to rebound after its slow start.
"It's a good year for the movies this time," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, which is releasing "The Da Vinci Code." "When you have `Mission: Impossible' and `Da Vinci' coming up, we should stay in this sweet spot for a while.
"If we're all making movies people want to see, they will go out and see them."