Cruise Con­trol

In 2005, America’s top ac­tor seemed to an­ni­hi­late his rep­u­ta­tion and ca­reer with two day­time TV ap­pear­ances. Twelve years later, here’s how Tom Cruise stealth­ily pre­vailed

Newsweek - - CONTENTS - BY RYAN BORT @ryan­bort

There have al­ways been two of him: Tom Cruise the star— some­how cock­sure and ea­ger to please—who, by 26, had be­come the ideal of a Hol­ly­wood lead­ing man, deftly jug­gling ro­man­tic, com­edy, se­ri­ous act­ing and ac­tion movies. (In 1996 alone, he got an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Jerry Maguire and launched a bil­lion-dol­lar ac­tion fran­chise, play­ing Ethan Hunt in Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.) And Tom Cruise the man, al­ways a lit­tle prob­lem­atic thanks to his in­volve­ment with Scien­tol­ogy—a con­nec­tion that seemed more quirky than strange un­til his di­vorce from Ni­cole Kid­man in 2001, blamed in part on the church.

And then, in May 2005, Cruise made a giddy spec­ta­cle of him­self on

The Oprah Win­frey Show, jump­ing up and down on the host’s sofa, pump­ing his fists in the air, declar­ing his love for soon-to-be-wife Katie Holmes. The mo­ment went vi­ral on Youtube, launched just months be­fore. It was at once in­fec­tious... and deeply weird.

A month later, a sec­ond help­ing of weird: Dur­ing a heated ex­change with Matt Lauer on the To­day show, Cruise railed against an­tide­pres­sants and psy­chi­a­try, both frowned upon by Scien­tol­ogy.

It’s hard to de­scribe how neg­a­tively the press and Hol­ly­wood viewed Cruise after those events. Head­lines de­clared his ca­reer was toast. Yet 12 years later, he re­mains one of the globe’s big­gest box-of­fice stars; he was the high­est-paid ac­tor in 2012, and his films, as of Septem­ber, have grossed $9 bil­lion world­wide. More bad pub­lic­ity (his di­vorce from Holmes, the damn­ing Scien­tol­ogy doc­u­men­tary Go­ing Clear) and no­table flops (most re­cently The Mummy) fol­lowed. How­ever, even if the me­dia con­tinue to re­gard him war­ily, for the right project, movie­go­ers still show up. Gone are the ro­man­tic com­edy roles and any sense of Os­car am­bi­tion, but Cruise clearly knows how to hang on, with or without suc­tion cups. A time­line of lessons learned.


Worlds pre­miered days after the To­day show. The press spec­u­lated his ab­sence from the movie poster had to do with his meltdown (it didn’t). Di­rec­tor Steven Spiel­berg was, at first, one of Cruise’s staunch­est al­lies (this was their sec­ond film to­gether, after 2001’s Mi­nor­ity

Re­port), but, de­spite the film be­ing a hit, the two never worked to­gether again. World’s $234 mil­lion U.S. box of­fice—still the high­est do­mes­tic take of Cruise’s ca­reer—had some spec­u­lat­ing the draw was mere cu­rios­ity. His next film would an­swer that. MIS­SION: IM­POS­SI­BLE III (2006) When the third in­stall­ment man­aged only $47.7 mil­lion in its open­ing week­end (de­spite the fourth-widest re­lease of any film at the time), Sum­ner Red­stone, then-chair­man of Vi­a­com, which owns Paramount Pic­tures, ef­fec­tively fired Cruise from the fran­chise, at­tribut­ing the low num­ber to the ac­tor’s off-screen be­hav­ior. (Red­stone may have also been an­noyed by Cruise al­legedly threat­en­ing to avoid the press un­less Vi­a­com, which also owns Com­edy Cen­tral, pulled a South Park episode that im­plied he is gay—a ru­mor that has dogged his ca­reer.) “It’s noth­ing to do with his act­ing abil­ity—he’s a ter­rific ac­tor,” Red­stone said to The

Wall Street Jour­nal. “But we don’t think some­one who ef­fec­tu­ates cre­ative suicide and costs the com­pany rev­enue should be on the lot.” LI­ONS FOR LAMBS (2007) After Top Gun’s break­through suc­cess, Cruise’s pivot to more se­ri­ous drama got him work­ing with the top di­rec­tors and ac­tors of the time: Oliver Stone ( Born on the Fourth of July), Martin Scors­ese ( The Color of

Money), Jack Ni­chol­son ( A Few Good Men), Dustin Hoff­man ( Rain Man) and, of course, Spiel­berg. He hoped to re­bound from the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble tur­moil by tak­ing a role in Li­ons

for Lambs, Robert Red­ford’s Iraq War

al­le­gory. It was one of the big­gest flops of Cruise’s ca­reer, re­ceiv­ing poor re­views and a dis­ap­point­ing $15 mil­lion do­mes­ti­cally. He hasn’t ap­peared in a straight­for­ward drama since. TROPIC THUN­DER (2008) Jump­ing on Oprah’s couch made Cruise a punch­line. He made him­self a much bet­ter punch­line play­ing the out­ra­geously funny Hol­ly­wood power player Less Gross­man in Tropic

Thun­der, Ben Stiller’s war spoof. It was a bril­liant ca­reer move (as well as a sharp poke at the in­dus­try that had mostly aban­doned him). With this cameo, Cruise had every­one laugh­ing with him rather than at him. He got a sev­enth Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion, as well as a rap­proche­ment with Paramount, lead­ing to a third whack at Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble. MIS­SION: IM­POS­SI­BLE— GHOST PRO­TO­COL (2011) Fol­low­ing a tepid re­turn to unadul­ter­ated ac­tion (2010’s Knight and Day), Cruise’s ca­reer ex­ploded (again) with

Ghost Pro­to­col. The film would bring in over $200 mil­lion do­mes­ti­cally and nearly $700 mil­lion world­wide, mak­ing it the high­est-gross­ing film of his ca­reer. Ghost Pro­to­col’s crit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial suc­cess re-es­tab­lished him as the pre­miere ac­tion star. Ap­par­ently, no amount of bad Scien­tol­ogy press could keep ac­tion fans from watch­ing Cruise climb the world’s tallest build­ing with a pair of suc­tion cups. ROCK OF AGES (2012) In an­other sup­port­ing role, Cruise took a quirky de­tour from ac­tion, play­ing the washed-up lead singer of a fic­tional ’80s hair metal band. The film was not suc­cess­ful by any met­ric, but Cruise’s cov­ers of songs like “Pour Some Su­gar on Me” and “Par­adise City” were ir­re­sistible. Sud­denly, Hol­ly­wood and crit­ics re­mem­bered what they loved about the ac­tor: his full-throated com­mit­ment to ev­ery role he takes. EDGE OF TO­MOR­ROW (2014) After a few mis­steps ( Jack Reacher, Obliv­ion), Cruise tried ac­tion with

hu­mor: Edge of To­mor­row, a sort of sci-fi Ground­hog Day. And he had win­ning. Jerry Maguire- style chem­istry with co-star Emily Blunt. Oh, that guy! Right! It was one of the few Cruise films in ages that fans and crit­ics loved, with a $100 mil­lion U.S. box of­fice. It also en­deared him to a gen­er­a­tion that knew noth­ing about his Oprah and To­day show de­ba­cles. JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016) Cruise is a non­stop work­ing ma­chine, but the lack of of­fers from top di­rec­tors and the nar­row­ing of fo­cus to ac­tion alone mean he gets less op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment—fewer op­tions pe­riod. An­other suc­cess­ful M:I, Rogue Na­tion, in 2015, had him press for a se­quel to 2012’s Jack

Reacher, de­spite that movie’s mid­dling box of­fice. Never Go Back did worse than the first. At this point, Cruise had starred in five over-thetop ac­tion films in as many years, with more misses than hits. AMER­I­CAN MADE (2017) Good news: The film re­unites Cruise with Edge of To­mor­row di­rec­tor Doug Li­man, the king of vis­ceral ac­tion that’s also fun ( The Bourne Iden­tity,

Mr. & Mrs. Smith). Based on a true story, the satire stars Cruise as a Trans World Air­lines pi­lot re­cruited by the CIA for an un­der­cover op­er­a­tion that spawns the Medellin car­tel. It’s ev­ery­thing you love most about clas­sic Cruise: the dare­devil (with

Top Gun– style stunts), the co­me­dian (without the heavy makeup of Tropic

Thun­der), the charm­ing scam­mer with a whiff of des­per­a­tion ( Jerry

Maguire, Rain Man). It’s his sweet spot, and if he sticks to it again, maybe Cruise can pivot back to the guy who ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions rather than sim­ply play­ing it safe.

“Amer­i­can Made” is clas­sic Cruise: the dare­devil and the charm­ing scam­mer with a whiff of des­per­a­tion.

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