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Published: Sunday, 6/1/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

Is the once bankable Tom Cruise now risky business at the box office?

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tom Cruise is shown in a promotional image for the 1986 film, "Top Gun." Tom Cruise is shown in a promotional image for the 1986 film, "Top Gun."
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Cashing multimillion-dollar paychecks is a “problem” most of of us wish we had.

For Tom Cruise, that kind of studio money is the spoils of being among the most bankable movie stars in history, a group that includes the likes of Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford.

In a 19-year span, beginning with his first blockbuster Top Gun in 1986 through 2005’s War of the Worlds, Cruise films earned nearly $2.4 billion at the domestic box office, placing him behind only Hanks at nearly $3 billion, Eddie Murphy at $2.6, and Robin Williams at $2.5.

During that phase of his career, Cruise was a well-oiled machine of workmanlike focus and scandal-free living. It’s arguable that his first two divorces -- in particular the latter to Nicole Kidman -- stirred more headlines because the actor‘s personal life was devoid of negative headlines other than the scurrilous rumors of his sexuality and his practice of Scientology.

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But nine years ago -- May 25, 2005, to be precise -- Cruise enthusiastically shared his new love for Toledo’s Katie Holmes on Oprah Winfrey -- a surreal celebrity-unhinged moment now simply referred to as “the couch-jumping” incident. This water-cooler moment, along with a few others -- including arguing the dangers of psychiatric drugs and treatments with a stunned Matt Lauer on the Today Show -- caught audiences off-guard and perhaps even damaged the established and cultivated “Cruise brand.”

Whether coincidence or not, those PR miscues immediately preceded a drop in his box-office numbers.

Beginning with 2006’s Mission: Impossible III through 2013’s Oblivion, Cruise generated $724 million, with an average of $90.5 million between his eight films. That’s a per-film haul slightly less than his career average of nearly $97 million.

Cruise in Risky Business in 1983. Cruise in Risky Business in 1983.
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But the cumulative total is skewed by the actor’s dependable Mission: Impossible franchise. Remove the $343 million total generated from Mission: Impossible III and 2011’s Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, and Cruise’s box-office performance drops substantially to $381 million and an average of $63.5 million in that seven-year run. And none of those six movies in that stretch reached the $100 million mark.

For Cruise, it’s been nearly a decade of under-performing dramas, and underwhelming action franchises. And then there was the flop musical Rock of Ages, featuring Cruise’s widely panned performance as a drugged-out rock singer with a Michelangelo-chiseled physique.

For most of us, the actor who turns 52 July 3 remains a -- if not the -- marquee attraction for summer and Christmas blockbusters, that rare movie star whose onscreen charisma is a larger presence than the CGI spectacles themselves.

Yet the failure of Rock of Ages and Oblivion to click with audiences underscored what is one of the quiet realities of Hollywood: Cruise’s shrinking bankability.

If that trend is going to reverse course it may start with Edge of Tomorrow, a remarkable new sci-fi film in which Cruise plays a future soldier caught in a 24-hour time-loop and forced to replay the same losing battle against alien invaders until he gets it right. The film opens nationwide Friday.

Cruise in Jerry Maguire in 1996. Cruise in Jerry Maguire in 1996.
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Based on the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow plays to the strengths of the Cruise brand: action, heroics, explosions, humor, an attractive female lead, and a huge budget -- nearly $180 million. It’s the kind of movie few actors -- if any -- do better than Cruise. It’s also his best film since 2002’s Minority Report, which has as much to do with the source material and script, and director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity) as it does with the actor.

Beyond the quality of the film, its opening date sets it up nicely for a long theatrical run.

Even with the crowded summer movie schedule, Edge of Tomorrow has a three-week cushion until another sci-fi blockbuster, Transformers: Age of Extinction, opens on June 27. With strong word of mouth, Cruise’s latest film could and should build strong box-office momentum in that span. Perhaps it will even surpass $235 million and topple War of the Worlds as Cruise’s top-grossing film.

But if not, and Edge of Tomorrow proves another disappointment in a string of box-office also-rans for the actor, then it‘s time to reevaluate his status as a dependable draw for moviegoers.

With the fifth Mission: Impossible slated for 2015, the actor is wisely keeping his go-to franchise chugging along.

But if Cruise’s other blockbusters continue to under perform, maintaining his box-office reputation may itself be the impossible mission.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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