LOS ANGELES -- For one of his next roles Tom Cruise is planning to play a soldier who refights the same battle (with aliens) in an endless loop, getting better and better at it.
More and more, it appears, that's the story of his life.
In the latest shock to his personal and professional status, Cruise was served last Friday with divorce papers by his wife, Katie Holmes. But it only relights celebrity-media fires he has been fighting -- and mostly winning -- for decades.
He has been savaged for his belief in Scientology. There was the National Enquirer-ready divorce from Nicole Kidman. Bizarre off-screen behavior, like jumping on Oprah's couch, made him a late-night pinata. Cruise's attack on Brooke Shields for using antidepressants generated global indignation.
And yet, as people in Hollywood pointed out Monday, he has always bounced back. Among celebrities who ascended in the 1980s, Cruise, who turned 50 on Tuesday, is virtually alone in having risen to -- and held onto -- superstardom. Last year Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol gave him his biggest global hit yet. He even appears not to age. That might help to explain why Hollywood so far does not seem overly concerned about Cruise's latest personal troubles, pointing out that celebrity divorces, even messy ones, are hardly a rarity in show business.
''Let's be honest, if he does another Mission Impossible, no one will care one lick about the divorce," said Paul Dergarabedian, a longtime box office analyst.
Everything might change, of course, if the divorce turns into the public slugfest that the celebrity media clearly want to make it, particularly if Scientology becomes a significant factor. Holmes filed for divorce in New York citing "irreconcilable differences" and seeking sole custody of their 6-year-old daughter, Suri, leading to speculation in the media that Scientology, specifically Cruise's plans for Suri's introduction to the religion, played a prominent role in Holmes' decision.
Those factors might alter the equation and create a more problematic storyline than a typical Hollywood split-up based on adultery, money, or mere petulance.
For now studios have begun lining up behind Cruise.
His next film to arrive in theaters is the drama Jack Reacher, based on one of the books in Lee Child's best-selling crime series. Paramount Pictures, which plans to release the movie on Dec. 21, said in a statement on Monday: "Tom is a huge movie star for the right reason: He's a very talented actor whose movies have entertained millions of fans." Paramount added that Cruise's "ability to make a great movie" is what "moviegoers remember above all else."
Universal Pictures, where Cruise is currently making Oblivion, a $140 million science-fiction adventure, said in a statement, "Tom is a true superstar who consistently gives 150 percent of himself to every performance, and we are excited and honored to be partners with him."
Warner Bros. said its own big-ticket movie with Cruise, All You Need is Kill, in which his character repeatedly fights the same battle, is progressing as planned, although no release date is set.
Cruise has long been open about his ties to Scientology, and has publicly credited its teachings with helping him sort through professional issues on his rise to the top. In a 2002 interview for Esquire magazine he told how the religion's tenets guided decisions about business choices and associates. To Hollywood acquaintances he once sent acrylic desktop stand-up plaques outlining Scientology's basic behavioral precepts.
But the Scientology association has also caused friction for Cruise in his profession, as when the church set up a literature-and-massage tent on the set of Paramount's War of the Worlds. In the aftermath of that incident, and the relatively soft performance of Mission: Impossible III, in 2006, Paramount ended its production deal with Cruise's company.
Over the weekend reporters and camera crews camped outside Holmes' Manhattan apartment, reporting the presence of a white SUV parked nearby and speculating that it was occupied by men connected with Scientologists. On Monday, Gary Soter, a Church of Scientology lawyer, said in a statement, "There is no truth whatsoever to the TMZ.com report [or any other report] that the Church of Scientology has sent anyone to follow or surveil Katie Holmes."
Bertram H. Fields, Cruise's lawyer, also challenged the reports.
"No one is following Katie Holmes," Fields said in a phone interview. "That is not happening."
The couple's daughter, Fields noted, "always has security."
On Monday morning the white vehicle was gone, but more than a dozen reporters, photographers, and camera operators remained gathered outside the building. In the early afternoon several police officers arrived and set up metal barricades on the sidewalk.
Inspector Kim Y. Royster, a spokeswoman for the New York City Police Department, said the department had received "no formal complaints of harassment at this time." She added that the department has posted a "directed patrol" of several officers near the residence "to make sure onlookers don't block the entrance."
As for media speculation that the 33-year-old Toledo native filed for divorce partly because of fears that Suri might become involved with a Scientology group called the Sea Organization, a youth training unit. Soter, the church's lawyer, said, "No person younger than age 16 is accepted. Further, church policy requires the consent of both parents and/or all legal guardians. There are no exceptions."
Amanda Lundberg, a spokeswoman for Cruise, had no comment Monday beyond a statement released last Friday asking for privacy and saying he was "deeply saddened." Cruise has been filming Oblivion in Iceland, although photography there was scheduled to end this week and briefly continue near Mammoth Lakes in California.
(Cruise has not missed a beat on the set since word of the divorce became public, according to a person involved with the film who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid conflict with Universal.)
Holmes has retained two divorce lawyers, Jonathan Wolfe and Allan E. Mayefsky; neither responded to requests for comment. Cruise hired Dennis Wasser, a battle-hardened Los Angeles family-law expert who was involved with his divorce from Kidman.
"I am going to represent him," Wasser said Monday.
Asked how quickly Cruise would file a legal response to Holmes, Wasser responded, "I would say days."
First on Wasser's list is to join in hiring New York counsel, which will most likely lead to a quick review of questions concerning custody law and practices on both coasts.
In many ways Cruise had lately been winning the image war, finally leaving behind the TMZ headlines. The outsize success of Ghost Protocol helped, as did raves for his performance in the recently released Rock of Ages. Another factor has been the arrival of Lundberg, an ace publicist whom Cruise hired in 2010; Cruise had bounced among various press handlers, including his sister, after firing Pat Kingsley, a publicist who had long protected him.
Now he must navigate a celebrity gossip machine that grows ever more vigorous and now includes Twitter, where Cruise has been judged particularly harshly in recent days.
Cruise must tread carefully in his next moves. Any whiff of using his celebrity to bully his lesser-known wife would create trouble, Hollywood media experts say. Still, so far publicity veterans say the situation is not yet dire.
''I think the 'hit' to his image is not lasting, not in the culture we are living in," said Michael Levine, a longtime celebrity publicist unaffiliated with Cruise. "The problem is if the custody war becomes nuclear."
Joseph Goldstein and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.