Fourth instalment in the MI franchise beats newcomer The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but figures boosted by previews.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol came out on top at the UK New Year box office, grossing £8.2m from 509 screens at an excellent average of £16,087.

A healthy £5.4m came from four days of previews, with the film’s Friday-Sunday total coming to £3.9m.

Paramount’s fourth instalment in the money-spinning franchise beat out Sony’s newcomer The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which made £4.3m including previews from 479 screens at a strong average of £9,030. £2.7m came from the 470 previews.

Opening weekends for the Tom Cruise-fronted franchise have increased with each instalment. The 1996 original debuted on £4.2m. But film cumulatives have trended in the opposite direction, with the original grossing £18.7m compared to only £15.5m for Mission Impossible III in 2006.

Good reviews and an impressive revamp from Brad Bird could well see the latest instalment become the franchise’s top earner. But MI faces ongoing competition from two more action films with big 18-30 appeal.

The first of these is Sony’s newcomer The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which grossed £4.3m during the same time period, £2.7m of which came from previews. The film scored an impressive average of £9,030 from 479 screens.

The opening including previews is easily Fincher’s biggest debut ahead of Seven which opened on £2.6m in 1996 and still stands as Fincher’s biggest hit in the UK on £19.5m. Sony will initially have its sights on the director’s second-biggest film in the territory, The Social Network, which made £10.6m in 2010.

A major brand with a built-in audience and a lead role for James Bond star Daniel Craig, The Dragon Tattoo remake was always likely to find plenty of fans. The Swedish language original was a major foreign language success in 2009, taking £2.1m from only 126 screens (widest release).

MI’s other main competitor last weekend was Warner Bros’ Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows which continued to perform well over its third weekend, scoring a further £2.5m from a week-high 545 screens at an average of £4,673. Guy Ritchie’s charge has now taken £16m.

There were significant upturns for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Puss In Boots and New Year’s Eve and another good result for Don 2 - the only top ten second-week title - which has now taken £1.2m cumulative.

The Artist opened impressively in one cinema in London’s West End, making £48,445, while Entertainment’s The Lady managed only £91,690 from 117 screens at a disappointing average of £784.

This weekend sees saturation releases for Fox’s Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady and eOne’s Goon as well as an expanded release for Entertainment’s acclaimed drama The Artist.

As of January 3, 2012: £1 = $1.565.