The story is a simple one: Tom Cruise becomes a huge star. He joins a religion. He goes a bit nutty. His career is in ruins. Good movies brings him back to our good graces. Is Tom Cruise back? Is his string of disappointing films over?
You see it reflected in the stories written about him right now: "Tom Cruise is back!" the headlines tell us. "It's time to like Tom Cruise again!"
But we've always liked Tom Cruise. It's the press that decided the headlines hurt much more than they actually did.
He never went away
I'm not here to argue about Scientology, nor Cruise's relationship with his wife or children. I'm here to say that the audiences never left him. There were no string of flops. No movies that under performed due to Tom Cruise giving a weird interview.
Knight & Day? It earned over $261 million worldwide, from a budget of $117 million. That's before DVD sales and television rights, mind you. Vanilla Sky made $203 million from a budget of $68 million. That's a hit. A pretty big one. Surely Valkyrie died, right?
It actually made $200 million from a budget of $75 million.
Edge of Tomorrow underperformed, of course. Not even Tom Cruise could save that one. (It made $369 million from a $178 million budget.) Jack Reacher, though, there's no way that did well. No one talks about Jack Reacher.
It "only" brought in $218 million from a $60 million budget. If that's a flop, every studio is going to line up to release more flops.
I had never even heard of Lions for Lambs before, but it made $63 million from a $35 million budget. It's one of the smallest films Tom Cruise has released since Top Gun, both in terms of budget and box office, but it still nearly doubled its budget. You might think Oblivion sank without a trace, but it pulled in $286 million from a $120 million budget.
I kept looking for this string of "hurt" movies, and I couldn't find any. You can argue that some of these films may have done better if Tom Cruise didn't have such a tortured relationship with the press and the tabloids, but what you can't say is that Cruise went through a phase when he wasn't bankable. His audience never left him.
Rock of Ages may have only made $59 million from its $75 budget, but Cruise played a small role within a much larger cast. So there, if you want to find a Cruise film you can call a "failure," we have one example.
I'm not the only person to notice this, and if you dig into Cruise's deals for these films you may see some grumpy movie executives that are unhappy at the amount of box office the star got to keep for himself. But that's inside baseball, and poor planning and risk management by the studio.
What's clear is that Tom Cruise always puts butts in seats, and it's very hard to find a film in his modern career that didn't at least double its budget. This could very well be one of the longest strings of consistent hits in Hollywood history, with Tom Cruise as one of the last great movie stars that can consistently open a large-budget film. If you give him a good budget and an even halfway decent script, he'll likely give you $200 or more million back. It's like clockwork.
While the press may have been obsessed with Cruise's personal life, for better or worse, he was enjoying a hell of a run of success at the box office. The backlash may have existed on the news stands and around the water cooler, but it has never seemed to reach the multiplexes.