Tom Cruise isn't having the best year. In terms of his career and PR problems, I mean. He's a new father, so his personal life can't be too bad. But his 14-year production and development deal with Paramount Pictures was terminated last month by Paramount due to his "recent conduct," according to Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom, which owns Paramount.*
Redstone is a rich, powerful man. He's also 83 years old. And as we all know, old people with lots of power and money can sometimes make bad decisions. (Just ask Anna Nicole Smith's second husband.)
Redstone also pointed out in his interviews to the press that the disappointing performance of Mission: Impossible III this summer was due to the public's disdain for Cruise's couch jumping on The Oprah Winfrey Show, his none-too-shy views on the evils of psychiatry and antidepressants in an interview with Today's Matt Lauer, that time he karate-chopped a pregnant Brooke Shields outside of a crowded L.A. bistro, etc.
Mission: Impossible III earned $133 million in U.S. theaters. Yes, that's disappointing compared to Mission: Impossible II's $215 million gross six years ago and the original Mission's $180 million gross a decade ago. But you know what other Tom Cruise movie underperformed at the box office, yet no one seemed to notice or care? Minority Report, the 2002 Steven Spielberg film based on a Philip K. Dick short story. It earned "only" $132 million.
Minority Report is a well-acted, funny, intelligent, thrilling movie. In fact it's the last movie I saw in a theater that I immediately wanted to see again, just like when I was a child. My only guess as to why it underperformed is that it was a little too dark for some moviegoers, similar to Blade Runner, a futuristic fantasy that bombed upon release in 1982 but is now considered a science fiction classic.
You could argue that Minority Report wasn't a sequel and therefore the financial expectations for it weren't as high as they were for Mission: Impossible III. But Minority Report was a big deal four years ago: the world's biggest star was collaborating with the world's biggest director for the first time. Since the final product actually turned out to be good (no small feat), its financial success should've been guaranteed, but Minority Report's opening-weekend gross was almost exactly the same as Disney's Lilo & Stitch, which was no one's idea of an animated blockbuster along the lines of The Lion King. Minority and Lilo ended up making roughly the same amount of money in the end, but the press didn't talk much about that.
Fast-forward three years later to Cruise and Spielberg's second team-up, War of the Worlds, which came out a month or so after Cruise's appearance on Oprah. So what if he jumped on a couch? The man was in love. (No, I don't think he's gay. That rumor's a dead end.) Or L. Ron Hubbard's ghost made him levitate briefly; I'm not sure. But the Oprah appearance seemed to mark a turning point for Cruise in terms of moviegoers sharpening their knives to kill another idol. The general public and the media can only take so much blinding light from a megawatt smile like Cruise's before they frantically start swinging baseball bats at the source.
War of the Worlds made $234 million last year, a full $100 million more than Minority Report. Was it a better movie? I don't think so, although it was good. Was it any less dark than Minority Report? Nope. All those sobering 9/11 overtones were hard to miss. The only cop-out, in my opinion, came in the final minutes of the film, when a certain character's fate was revealed.
When War of the Worlds was released no one said, "If this one disappoints at the box office like Minority Report did three years ago, don't expect another collaboration between Cruise and Spielberg." But now that Cruise has officially been knocked down a peg, it's okay to say that Mission: Impossible III choked.**
In early 2004 Cruise fired his longtime publicist, Pat Kingsley, and hired his sister, a fellow Scientologist, to do the job, even though she had no PR experience. But after those eyebrow-raising interviews in the summer of '05, Cruise sent his sister away last November to handle his charity work, then apologized to Brooke Shields last month for cutting off two of her thumbs, gangland style, outside of a crowded L.A. bistro. Good call, Tom. Take some time off with your wife and new baby and remember what really matters in life.
... What's that, you say? Tom hasn't married Katie Holmes yet? Forget everything I just said. How dare that man sire a child out of wedlock! He must not be ready to commit to a lifetime of marital bliss with Joey Potter because he's a flaming homosexual!!!!
* A minute ago I saw an online banner ad that read, "Is Tom Cruise out of control? Answer for a FREE dinner for two at Olive Garden!" How offensive. I would never eat at Olive Garden. (Just kidding. The house salad never disappointed in high school.)
** Twelve of Tom Cruise's last 14 movies have made $100 million or more at the U.S. box office. Vanilla Sky (2001) and Collateral (2004) both squeaked past that mark, and although Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia (both 1999, but just the former features Cruise in a lead role) fell short, only Tom Hanks has a better track record over the same period of time (1992-2006), as far as I know.