This is a sad day in the Turitz home. An unquestionably dark one which we knew was coming, but which we had hoped wouldn’t come along for quite some time. Unfortunately, judging by the numbers of this past weekend’s box office, it appears that time has arrived. American Made did about $17 million this weekend, finishing behind the fourth weekend of IT, and essentially tied with the Kingsmen sequel, in its second weekend. The fact that the latest Tom Cruise film, in which he is getting some of his best reviews in years, not only couldn’t win the weekend, but also couldn’t even break $20 million despite not having to contend with any other major new releases, means it is time we face irrefutable facts:
Tom Cruise is no longer a big enough star to open a movie in the US.
Yes, yes, I know, cue the tears and the self-flagellation, the wailing and the hair-pulling and the gnashing of teeth. It’s a tragedy for all of us, the removal of one of the few things on which we knew we could count, that there were still major movie stars out there who could put butts in the seats well into their 50s. People who, by their very presence in a film, could spur us all to set aside whatever else we might have going on during a given weekend, as it was clearly far more important for us to take in a screening of his or her latest efforts. In essence, we’re not just mourning the passing of Tom Cruise’s star, we’re mourning the passing of The Movie Star, period.
So I’m clear, I happen to love Tom Cruise. I know a lot of folks who don’t, but to me, he’s just pure joy on screen, and even when I don’t like the movie in question (like, say, Oblivion, or the latest Jack Reacher flick), I like him in it, and will always see it. Always.
But that’s just not enough anymore, and if you doubt it, look at the results he’s turned out over the past decade, with American Made being just the latest in a string of disappointments. In fact, he has appeared in a dozen other movies since 2007. Take away the last two Mission: Impossible movies — both of which were big box office winners and also, let’s face it, stupendous — only two of the remaining ten have cracked the $100 million barrier in domestic grosses. One of them, Tropic Thunder, is not really a Tom Cruise Movie (TCM), as he only has a small, though utterly hilarious, supporting role, and he’s buried under a ton of make-up. The other, Edge of Tomorrow, just barely cracked that number, with $100.2 million, despite the fact that it was, in my opinion, the best action flick of 2014.
One could argue that Rock of Ages isn’t really a true TCM, either, that it was more of an ensemble and he was an equal part of it, though his role as a rock star was touted pretty heavily in the marketing. Even if we put an asterisk next to that costly flop, though, it still leaves seven other movies in which he was unquestionably the star, and not one of them did even $90 million at the box office, with the aforementioned Oblivion taking the top spot with $89M. Both Jack Reacher movies were disappointing, essentially breaking even after foreign grosses were added in, and the same goes for Valkyrie and Knight & Day. But this summer’s The Mummy was a total disaster, losing nine figures for Universal, with the added irony that it supposedly did so because it was shifted from a straight monster movie, meant to start up the studio’s new Dark Universe, into more of a standard TCM. While he still has a good deal of foreign appeal, gone are the days when he can carry movies that aren’t terribly commercial endeavors, like Last Samurai or Collateral, to a nine-figure domestic gross on the strength of his participation alone.
The thing about all this is, it’s not just about Tom Cruise. To me, this is a requiem for the Movie Star as a whole. While one could make the argument that Denzel Washington is still at that level of draw, I think Cruise was really the last one standing. Dwayne Johnson has always been hit or miss when he’s on his own — and this past summer’s Baywatch was about as big a miss as you can get — and Robert Downey Jr. only draws when he’s playing Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes. Cruise has been a legitimate, capital letter Movie Star for three decades. That is truly an epically spectacular run, but even the greatest runs have to end sometime. This weekend, with the underwhelming numbers put up by American Made, appears to be it. No longer can we expect a single actor, or actress for that matter, to attract audiences the way we used to. The concept has officially become the most important thing when it comes to the movies, and the actors in them just are not as important as they once were. Again, it pains me to write this, but it’s not exactly a surprise. We’ve been talking about this for a while now, so this moment was inevitable.
So what now? Well, obviously, he can keep making Mission: Impossible movies as long as they keep making money, and the sixth one in the series is coming up next summer (mark July 27th on your calendars, as I have!), and there’s a 30-years-in-the-making Top Gun sequel on the way the year after, which he starts shooting in January, but then what? Supposedly, there’s an Edge of Tomorrow sequel on the docket, too, but that probably won’t see the light of day for at least two years, perhaps in 2020. By that time, Our Boy Tom will be getting awfully close to 60, which he hits on July 3rd, 2022. Now, that hasn’t stopped Harrison Ford, who will be closer to 80 than 70 by the time the next Indiana Jones installment hits screens, but it is still awfully long in the tooth for an action star, Liam Neeson’s recent success notwithstanding.
That’s why I think it’s time he starts to pivot back toward becoming A Real Actor again. It’s not about money anymore, he clearly has made plenty of that, but what he doesn’t have is an Oscar, something he very much wants and is the only mountain he really has left to conquer. Going back to the kind of work he did in years past — in a 10-year span, Cruise worked with peak Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July, peak Cameron Crowe in Jerry Maguire, took two years to make a movie with one of the all-time greats when he did Eyes Wide Shut with Stanley Kubrick, then took a key supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia — should get him there, and earn him the kind of respect he clearly still seeks.
Tom Cruise still has decades of great work ahead of him, in all sorts of projects and all kinds of genres, all of which I’ll eagerly see. It’s just time we all accept the reality that an era has passed, and it won’t be returning.