Haters To the Left: On Tom Cruise's Amazing Three Decades of Box-Office Resilience
Amy Nicholson at LA Weekly wrote a phenomenal piece on Tom Cruise last month, and how that couch jumping incident on the Oprah Winfrey show all those years back never actually happened. He stood on a couch very briefly — at the request of Oprah — and a YouTuber essentially edited it in such a way as to create the illusion that would forever stick in our minds of Cruise maniacally leaping up and down on that goddamn couch. It’s a fascinating piece that also takes a longer view of Cruise’s entire career, back to his early days, when he had shunned the spotlight, took two years off in order to avoid the dangers of fame, initially refused to do action films, and sought supporting roles like those in Rain Man and The Color of Money that would position him as a serious actor.
My only real issue with the piece was the title: How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star , because here’s the thing: Tom Cruise hasn’t been destroyed. His movies continue to perform well, if not here, then at least internationally. Take his supporting roles in Rock of Ages and Lions for Lambs out of the equation, and all of his movies since the his career was “destroyed” have made at least $200 million worldwide, and while Rock of Ages was a misfire, he was spectacular in it, mediocre singing and all.
No one else in Hollywood could survive the kind of public relations nightmares he’s experienced over the last decade, from the “couch-jumping” incident to his awkward argument with Matt Lauer on The Today Show to his connections to Scientology to the his divorce from Katie Holmes (and all the rumors that went along with that) to persistent rumors that he refuses to publicly admit he’s gay.
In fact, as a critic, Tom Cruise films are some of the most difficult to write, if only because we know that positive reviews — and by and large, that’s what Tom Cruise movies receive — are going to be met with hostility from readers and commenters who judge his films based on their relationship with Tom Cruise. Glowing reviews are met with skepticism, with suggestions that Tom Cruise is only capable of playing “Tom Cruise” (a fact that’s true of many leading men), and outright animosity from some who refuse to see any Tom Cruise movie based on some principle that’s tied up in a personal life we only really know about from tabloids and gossip blogs and our own speculation. On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to talk about one of his movies without at least making a passing reference to his life outside of them because everything he does is so entwined with the Tom Cruise mythos.
But somehow, Tom Cruise transcends his own Tom Cruiseness. He is meticulous about the roles he chooses. He only works with good directors, he chooses interesting projects, he spends his own money rewriting scripts, he oversees everything in his films, he’s not afraid to play unlikable characters, or to have fun at his own expense, and — with the exception of the Mission Impossible movies — he avoids franchises. We will never have to worry that Cruise will end up in another superhero movie.
More than that, while Tom Cruise may have a problematic personal life, he is incredibly devoted to his work. That ethic is no more evident than in the fact that one of the biggest, richest, most famous stars in Hollywood would not only perform many of his own stunts for Mission Impossible III, but he did so on top of the world’s tallest building while the wind was whipping his ass around. I don’t care how much gear one has around his waist or how safe the stunt might be, it would’ve been absolutely terrifying to do what Cruise did here. He’s a mile-and-a-half up in the air, hanging on for dear life, and he is aware enough to look into the camera and give it a Tom Cruise glare.
This will never fail to impress me.
And that’s the thing about Tom Cruise: There are enough of us that can overlook whatever personal issues he’s had — and whatever they are, they’re nothing compared to the Roman Polanskis, Mel Gibsons, and Woody Allens of the world — to see the man for what he is: A hard-working actor who makes the movies he wants to make the way he wants to make them, and if there’s one thing he’s almost always good for, it’s breaking up what often feels like the tedium of franchise movies and sequels.
The Edge of Tomorrow comes out tomorrow, and advanced reviews have been overwhelmingly positive (despite some fairly terrible marketing that fails to highlight the comedic aspects of the movie or that it was originally titled All You Need Is Kill), but box-office prognosticators are already mostly predicting that Tom Cruise’s film will be trounced by The Fault in Our Stars. That may end up happening, but if there’s anything that Cruise has proven over the last 30 years, it’s that we should never underestimate the resiliency of the man’s box-office draw.