Unboxing Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible Career

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From time to time, throughout human history, humanity erects mind-blowing wonders of immortal splendor, great enigmatic edifices that defy reason or explanation. The Stonehenge from Salisbury Plain. The Sphinx of Giza. The temple of Angkor Wat.

The career of Tom Cruise.

The 59-year-old star is set to release his 43rd feature, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, a sequel to his 1986 action thriller about a group of elite Navy jet pilots who play beach – topless volleyball between missions. If the tracker is anywhere on target, it should open May 27 with at least $100 million over the four-day holiday weekend. That’s not supposed to happen anymore, at least not for movies that don’t involve superheroes springing from the web of the Metaverse.

Indeed, the era of the star-driven tentpole was supposed to have ended around the time Julia Roberts married a cameraman and Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor. Almost every member of the former $100 million opening weekend club of the 1990s and early 2000s has disbanded and moved on to lesser roles.

Brad Pitt is now making glorified cameos in Sandra Bullock films (or at least he was, until Bullock announced his semi-retirement from acting in March). Jim Carrey hardly does any photography anymore either (unless you count those trippy Donald Trump watercolors he keeps showing in art galleries). Even Tom Hanks, once one of cinema’s most important men, seems to be downsizing to second fiddle roles; his next role is Colonel Parker in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Elvis Presley biopic.

And let’s not forget Will Smith and Johnny Depp. It looks like they’ll be taking extended time off from the big screen as well.

But not Cruise. Violating the natural laws of Hollywood, ignoring all box office trends, it remains as great today as it ever was, the last old-school action figure still standing.

That status was all but formalized at Cannes last week, where even Cruise seemed stunned when he scooped an honorary Palme d’Or, and even more surprised by the five-minute standing ovation the usually jaded festival crowd gave to “Top Gun: Maverick” even before a second of the film had aired when it premiered on May 18. “It’s an amazing night and an amazing time,” he exclaimed from the stage. “You all made my life.”

Tom Cruise in a leaked video for the Church of Scientology in 2008

Of course, like any actor, Cruise’s career has taken its fair share of setbacks. His wacky meltdown on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2005, when he declared his love for Katie Holmes by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch like a maniac, was a horrifying public relations disaster. His association with the Church of Scientology has also caused problems, such as in 2008 when this nine-minute promo video leaked onto the internet showing Cruise in a black turtleneck raving incoherently to “SPs” and “KSW” as his song. “IM” theme. buzzed (and again and again) in the background.

‘The Mummy’ in 2017, ‘Rock of Ages’ in 2012, ‘Lions for Lambs’ in 2007 – he also dropped a few bombs along the way. And let’s not even get into those fairy tights he wore in 1985’s “Legend.”

And yet, here we are in 2022, 36 years after the original “Top Gun” was released, and Cruise is still flashing the same 500-watt helicopters that made him famous when Ronald Reagan was president.

'Top Gun: Maverick' could become Paramount's biggest hit in a decade

Part of his durability, it must be said, is due to the fact that, unlike some other aging actors of the 90s, he continues to look like a movie star. Pushing 60, he still has the same hairline, chiseled face and hard-to-miss schnozola, even the same abs (spoiler alert: he takes off his shirt so many times in “Top Gun: Maverick” that he should probably be controlled melanomas).

But when you start digging into Cruise’s 40-year-old resume, you can see that his extreme survival skills aren’t just superficial. You start noticing patterns, career choices that paved the way to long-term stardom. To begin with, almost from the start, when he made “The Outsiders” in 1984 with Francis Ford Coppola, he chose his directors as if he were putting together a league of auteur fantasy made up of dream collaborators. Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, Neil Jordan, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, Stanley freaking Kubrick – for an actor who has never won an Oscar, who is best known for his stunts Clinically insane acting, he sure kept some pretty distinguished company.

Of course, these days all Hollywood really cares about is franchises. But even here, Cruise has outmaneuvered his older cohorts. A few stars of his generation tried to get into the genre, like Cruise’s “Top Gun” co-star Val Kilmer (the iceman is promoted to commander of the Pacific Fleet in “Maverick”), who tried the Caped Crusader in 1995’s “Batman Forever.” But Kilmer never quite filled the hood. He was done with the DC Comics role. Same as George Clooney with 1997’s “Batman & Robin.” Both actors, big stars at the time, got chewed up and spat out by a pop culture icon who turned out to be even bigger than them.

Cruise, however, came up with a clever workaround. He found a pop culture artifact much smaller than himself – a dusty old spy TV show from the 1960s – and turned it into his own $3.5 billion six-movie franchise (soon to be a franchise). of seven and eight films, with two other Sequels to “Mission: Impossible”, filmed consecutively, released in 2023 and 2024). And – here’s the really savvy part – he made sure to make himself as indispensable to the series as his rubber masks and energetic theme music.

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Cruise in 1996’s “Mission: Impossible” (Paramount Pictures)

There were talks in the mid-2000s, around the time Cruise was bouncing all over Oprah’s furniture, that Paramount was considering casting him from “Mission: Impossible” and recasting his role. But that would never happen. Unlike the James Bond franchise (which is now looking for its seventh actor) or the Spider-Man movies (three actors, sometimes all in the same movie) or the Batman movies (Robert Pattinson does six, not counting the big screen filming of ‘Adam West in 1966), it’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone other than Cruise playing Ethan Hunt. Or at least, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing him and the movie still opening at $100 million.

Of course, even Cruise has his limits. After “MI” took off, he attempted to start another action franchise. But his Jack Reacher streak quickly petered out. Cruise only made two movies, in 2012 and 2016, before casting the ex-Army cop character on a gorilla named Alan Ritchson for an Amazon Prime show. However, big phew. Carrying a super-successful franchise for 26 years (and counting) is pretty impressive, especially for a guy this close to retirement age.

Which begs the obvious question: how long can he go on like this? The answer is, probably a good time. Harrison Ford, who has been fairly indispensable to the Indiana Jones series — almost as indispensable as Spielberg — is nearly 80 and still cracking a whip, with a fifth Indy sequel hitting theaters next year. One can easily imagine Cruise doing cliff jumps in inflated mobility chairs well into his 80s.

The more interesting question, however, is whether it’s possible for today’s young actors to replicate what Cruise has achieved with his career. Will any of the stars under 40 working in 2022 — Timothy Chalamet or Michael B. Jordan or Taron Egerton — still be famous in 36 years, let alone at the top of his game?

It’s hard to imagine. But if they survive to 2058, they’ll likely share the screen with a 95-year-old jet-flying speed freak with perfect abs and a 500-watt smile.

'Top Gun: Maverick' could become Paramount's biggest hit in a decade
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