Tom Jolliffe looks at the enduring star power of Tom Cruise. In an age where concept and candor take precedence over stardom, is Cruise the last major movie star on the big screen?
From weddings in the public eye to couch jumping to being a poster boy for Scientology, Tom Cruise’s career has garnered plenty of attention outside of his on-screen appeal.
From his on-screen appeal, he’s worked solidly for over 40 years, becoming a big name in the industry in just a few film appearances after solidifying smaller roles with the breakout lead in Risky business. A certain fighter jet movie would become a pop cultural phenomenon in 1986 and prove the kind of massive box office success that made Cruise one of the most sought-after actors of the era.
Cruise wasn’t just about blockbusters and financial glory, often seeking opportunities to work with great directors like Martin Scorsese in The color of moneyBarry Levinson in rain man and Oliver Stone in Born July 4. While the applause went more readily to Paul Newman in silver color or Dustin Hoffman in rain manCruise would claim his first Oscar nomination for Born July 4.
The ’90s were going to be a mix of critical acclaim, box office appeal, and a steady, willing fanbase, which meant Cruise rarely missed his mark. Cruise was nominated for three Oscars, with Jerry Maguire and Magnolia in addition to the above Fourth of July nod. He wasn’t just an easy smile with masses of charisma. He had the chops too.
In 1996, he headlined a big-budget blockbuster based on a TV show from decades earlier. Impossible mission, a sleek action-thriller from Brian De Palma proved a big hit, launching Cruise into the world of the franchise, whether they expect to go as far as 8 movies or not (I guess not). A star-studded cast and existing IP had some appeal, but audiences came in droves, mostly for Tom Cruise.
This Cruise nearly died after getting tangled in his parachute in the water in Superior gun was somewhat out of place, as it was that first Impossible mission where Tom Cruise: Stunt Man was also born. From the infamous wire run to jumping out of a window to escape a wave of water from the restaurant whose window he had just blown out, Cruise was in the thick of the action.
If audiences didn’t quite have that dedication to getting visibly involved in the action, they sure would by the time they made the second, more action-packed movie, directed by John Woo. M:i 2 cemented the allure of the cruising stunt. From mountain jumps to motorcycle rides and more, Cruise has set new expectations for his work moving forward. It was a string to his bow, a selling point, and it proved a tool for forgiveness and resurrection even as his career threatened to implode in off-screen discord.
No, Cruise is popular again, riding a successful franchise, with minimal impact from duds like The Mummy and generally an ageless call for his tireless dedication to stunt work. Cruise, and it could only be him, is also likely to become the first actor to shoot in space.
There’s a difference between 2022 and the heyday of the 80s and 90s when Cruise rose to prominence. The movie star as cinema has known it historically is rare. Sure, we have some very well-paid big players, but a lot of them are dependent on the IP addresses they’re attached to. Arguably, few are as charismatic as the greats of yesteryear (am I the only one who finds most Chris interchangeable?). Now, more than ever, concept is what sells. Franchises, existing intellectual property. Sure, Cruise has it all, but he also has a level of control that very few have.
In the world of the MCU, heroes could effectively be played by anyone. They could be recast and continue to sell tickets. Robert Downey Jr. has the most iconic looks of any MCU star, in that he’s the one who really gave comic book movies the sensibility and freshness of indie actors. Deep down though, he’s still more independent than his high-paying outings, as Stark suggests. Apart from Iron Manstages in blockbuster movies have sometimes felt awkward, although he was largely responsible for the success sherlock holmes franchise.
Elsewhere, Dwayne Johnson is one of the few whose name goes beyond the material he works in. His appeal might diminish under a slightly mechanical approach to his roles now. Johnson merely repeats his own carefully tailored (if one note) formula with little variation, and unlike Cruise, he doesn’t come back with a legacy as a great actor. Maybe Cruise has sometimes played blockbuster characters a little safe (even in two dimensions), dominated by expectations of blockbuster heroism, but every once in a while he reminds us that he’s a great actor too. (he looks great in maverick).
Plus, we’re in a time where the allure of the big screen isn’t as it used to be. The big-screen experience used to be more about ticking formula boxes to appeal to a select group of masses. Moreover, the big screen space is largely monopolized by a few selected studios and in particular by Disney and all its wings (including the MCU).
As said, the rotating and interchangeable nature of the stars here has seen three different Peter Parkers in 20 years (and Bruce Banners). Captain America passed on his shield, only to be taken over in serial form by Anthony Mackie. Hugh Jackman made Wolverine his own, no doubt unforgettable, but he never quite replaced that character in a way where he’s irreplaceable. There will be another.
Other stars have also made this transition to streaming. You might call it selling your soul. Deal with the devil. We’ve seen other films in difficult circumstances, having to change their models to incorporate streaming and simultaneous cinema releases. Dwayne Johnson had seen a drop in box office earnings before the pandemic which saw him become a bit safer with more Disney material, as well as becoming a big fish in the Netflix pond. Cruise though… is all about the big-screen experience.
When it comes to action, adventure, spectacle, Cruise champions the importance of the big screen and the unmistakable feeling of seeing these movies in the biggest format possible. The problem with streaming cinema and the mentality of some of the most produced content is that there is a part of the logic that accepts that these can be watched on a phone.
There are still other classic movie stars who have sold a movie under their name alone. The likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks are still on the way, but are transitioning more into supporting acts or smaller films. Ford will once again don his Fedora as Indiana Jones, having recently returned as Han Solo, but he’s certainly benefiting from established franchise fanbases. For cinemas, it’s about attracting people under 30, most of whom know more star wars as a prequel-era entity than they do of Ford and its cultural heritage at the time.
This Gen Z demographic, however, is familiar with Tom Cruise, whose appeal has carried, and because his magnetism still trumps his outspokenness. Again, such is his hold on Impossible missionand maverick for example, that it is unshakeably synonymous with them. His devotion to them becomes irreplaceable. That dedication to doing HALO jumps, leaping off buildings, flying helicopters, or making sure the flight sequences in maverick looked real churning stomach.
In the Marvel world of green screen studios, for example, we could eliminate Chris Hemsworth in a few years and replace him with another Thor and many wouldn’t flinch. It’s a very carefully constructed formula that works, but it’s all about the pre-built worlds, the visual effects, more than star power (although the casting has to be good).
Cruise’s dedication to the big-screen spectacle, also offset by interesting asides like American madeand highly underrated sci-fi and concept films like Minority report, Oversight (very underrated) and edge of tomorrow, brings a sense of anticipation to his films. Maybe we’re here because we expect stunts, or we know he won’t give anything less than 100%, or he’s an example of a creativity-driven project, rather than a marketing machine. , but we show up anyway. It doesn’t always go well, like the misfires Mummy Where Jack Reach (where he felt ill-chosen either way), but Cruise has his surefires and his surprises.
Honestly, did anyone expect Top Gun: Maverick to be the box office monster that he was? I expected him to impress, to be a good example of Cruise’s fervent passion for doing as much hands-on work as possible (instead of doing 95% with CGI), but after 36 years, it’s his highest-grossing film of all time – and the highest-grossing film of 2022 so far – is impressive.
The reality is that most cult movie reboots usually fail. A big part of that is replacing star power with actors who don’t have the same magnetism, or who are treated without creative care. The greatest strength with maverick was on a cruise to make a film that would impress, and more importantly, provide the kind of big-screen spectacle audiences rarely get now.
It’s a movie that challenges you to get sucked in, overwhelmed, and turn off your phone. It engages you (and the actual element on CGI is a factor) rather than overwhelming you. He got a healthy dose of passion and sincerity from his movie star, perhaps one of the greatest of all time, and perhaps the last old school star whose name has so much /more clout than IP, and remains bankable in a new landscape.
SEE ALSO: Conscious movie star Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and avid film buff. He has a number of films released on DVD/VOD worldwide and several releases scheduled for 2022, including Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray) , Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more information on the best personal site you will ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/