With ‘American Made’, Tom Cruise is back on a high. What caused the crash then?
It’s safe to say Tom Cruise hasn’t had the best year. Despite his chiselled jawline, toned torso and spectacular stuntwork still being top of their game, the 54 year old A-lister has been cited as the core reason behind the summer’s blundering Box Office bomb ‘The Mummy’ (2017).
With losses of $95 million reported in a $375 million worldwide gross, the film was expected not only to kill Universal’s overly ambitious “Monsterverse”, but Mr. Cruise’s ridiculously bankable career itself. That’s pretty sobering news for a man widely considered Hollywood’s “last true movie star”.
Thankfully, this has turned out to be far from the case. Within the last 2 weeks, Cruise’s latest film ‘American Made’ swept to the UK’s Box Office No.1 spot. A semi true-life tale of an airline pilot who became a high-flying drug cartel in 1980s Columbia, the film has inevitably drawn comparisons with TV shows such as ‘Narcos’ (2015-) and ‘Breaking Bad’ (2008-2013).
Despite a US release still to come, the film’s impressive takings this side of the pond (knocking off 5 week No.1 ‘Dunkirk’!) suggest strong showings ahead.
Unquestionably ‘American Made’s success is a solid enough indication that Cruise’s career is safe and sound. Yet how did such a Hollywood heavyweight – estimated to have a net worth of $550 million – suffer such a career meltdown?
Perhaps Cruise’s gleaming star power has ironically become his Achilles’ Heel. With studio finances increasingly being held up by popular comic-books and CGI, the need for a so-called “Star” is evidently in doubt.
It doesn’t help therefore that Box Office draws like Cruise have moulded the majority of their middle-aged careers around adrenaline-fuelled action flicks almost entirely constructed by rapid-fire sequences of running, jumping and shooting.
This oddly mirrors the black hole that Johnny Depp fell into when ‘The Lone Ranger’ tanked back in 2013.
Like Cruise, Depp began his career as an 80s heartthrob ogled over by hundreds of high-schoolers for his high cheekbones, tanned skin and smouldering stares.
It was only in later years that he succumbed to trademark rambling, boozing, scary-haired heroes like Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd.
Undoubtedly many of these slightly comical shticks were down to Depp’s close friendship and regular collaborations with Director Tim Burton. However, it was only with the $1 billion success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films (2003-2007) that the impressively bankable actor realised his Jack Sparrow-style antics were responsible for such beguiling box office numbers.
In the last 10 years, Depp’s awkward mix of slurring, stumbling and swordfighting has become less an acting style than a caricature; largely recycling the most exaggerated aspects of past roles as a corporate ploy to lure in extra crowds.
Inevitably, there was a comeuppance for the actor’s increasingly inflated ego. Being something of a multi-million movie show on two feet made it almost impossible to escape the dreaded curse of being typecast. No matter how awfully accented and predictable your roles may be, if they definitively guarantee bucks based on name alone, why would you stop playing them?
It must have been crushing therefore when Disney’s ridiculously outdated ‘Lone Ranger’ adaptation crashed and burned 4 years ago. A film now notorious for being the point at which exhausted multiplexes gave up on Mr. Depp and his whacky ways.
Since then, Depp has struggled to pick himself up on the big screen. The decreased intakes of this year’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge’ certainly indicate continued franchise fatigue. I don’t doubt Depp’s troubled personal life – marred by Alcoholism, Drug Addiction and Domestic Abuse – has also affected his audience appeal.
Cruise too is no stranger to off-screen controversy. Google “Tom Cruise Oprah” and witness the actor ecstatically declaring his love for then newly-married wife Katie Holmes while jumping on Oprah’s couch looking as though he’d taken half a tonne of Molly!
Perhaps the less said about his affiliation with the church of Scientology the better…
In front of the camera, though, he remains remarkably clean-cut. With the exception of his much-discussed and surprisingly short 5ft7 height, Cruise embodies every classic convention of a leading man.
Even well into his 50s, he managed to give every ageing bloke an inferiority complex as he effortlessly slid up the Burj Khalifa!
Unlike Depp – until recently his only realistic rival in terms of post-80s era A-listers – Cruise stuck to parts and even looks more often associated with a mainstream movie star. Without doubt this kept him on-board with his female fanbase.
It has also ensured Cruise an authorship over productions that no other actor currently has. A creative control usually only resting with directors, producers and most worryingly studios.
Ever wondered why every Cruise blockbuster seems to revolve around his megawatt smile and break-neck helicopter jumps? That’s his ego for you! Something audiences have grown far too tired of.
Perhaps Cruise should take lesson from this. The success of middle budget flicks like ‘American Made’ are a good indication his best bet would be in returning to the occasionally more offbeat antics witnessed in his bizarre turn as a seductive sex freak in the marvellous ‘Magnolia’ (1999).
A film which allowed Cruise to strip down his hunk act and embrace many of the quirkier characteristics of his off-screen persona.
Yes, Cruise may be a brand in himself, but brands do go bust!
I want crazy Cruise back!
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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