Tom Cruise's latest film, "Edge of Tomorrow", has garnered nearly universal good reviews. In fact, it's got a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, you might be surprised to learn that it also just got its butt kicked by a romantic drama about a dying girl this past weekend. So, how did a critically-acclaimed action flick starring Tom Cruise get smacked down by a 125 pound girl with a respirator? Most everyone seems to be blaming the failure on…well… Tom Cruise himself. Once one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, the man who made a name for himself in films like "Top Gun" and "Mission Impossible", seems to be going through some of the same doldrums that have afflicted Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and a handful of other action stars of the recent past. Perhaps, there are only so many times that you can see the same dude blow up stuff before you start to tune out. Here's a rundown of Tom Cruise's dwindling box office numbers, and why it has studio heads scrambling for an action star to replace him.
"Top Gun" (1986)
Gross: $180 million+
Tom Cruise' action career has followed a bell curve. Let's start on our way up. After the one-two punch of "Risky Business" and "All the Right Moves" put him on the map in 1983, everyone was wondering which direction the rising star's career was going to take. With the massive success of "Top Gun", however, it became clear his future lay in action films. "Top Gun" won an Oscar and to date, has earned nearly $180 million in the US alone. That's almost 12 times what it cost to make it in the early 80s.
"Mission: Impossible" (1996)
Gross: $181 million
After appearing in a string of dramas, romantic comedies, and dramas with a little action thrown in, such as "Rain Man", "Days of Thunder", "Far and Away", "A Few Good Men", and "Interview with the Vampire", Cruise returned to action with "Mission: Impossible". While his dramas had been relative successes, with most earning somewhere between $60 million and $100 million, none had the runaway success of his first major action film. His return to action brought another $180 million+ in box office receipts, and spawned a movie franchise.
"Mission: Impossible II" (2000)
Gross: $215 million
After an Oscar nomination for his work in "Jerry Maguire", followed by universally poor reviews for "Eyes Wide Shut", Tom Cruise went back to what worked – another action film. The budget for "Mission: Impossible II" was a massive $125 million, so the fact that it did so well in the US alone was a huge relief for producers Paramount Pictures and Tom's own production company, Cruise/Wagner Production. Add in the overseas receipts and "M:I2" was a very good investment.
"Minority Report" (2002)
Gross: $132 million
While "Minority Report" didn't make as much as some of his previous action flicks, it still did respectable business, and racked about a huge chunk of foreign change. Co-starring a then unknown actor named Colin Farrell, the dark action film based on a Philip K. Dick short story, managed to attract more than just sci-fi fans. However, it was also a quiet harbinger of steadily decreasing box office receipts to come.
"The Last Samurai" (2003)
Gross: $111 million
"The Last Samurai" was the first of his action films to lose money in the US. It ended up making most of the difference back in overseas receipts. However, for the most part, it's mix of historical drama and massive battlefield sequences just didn't quite work for American audiences. Adding to the issues, was the fact that Tom Cruise's predictably solid performance was almost completely overshadowed by the stellar performance of Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe. Watanabe simply walked away with the film, and suddenly, American audiences found themselves wondering what was so great about Tom Cruise.
Gross: $100 million
Seemingly recognizing that maybe he should step back a little, Tom Cruise, appeared in this smaller project with a $65 million budget, about a hit man taking a cab driver hostage. The gamble seemed to pay off, as the film snagged $100 million in receipts in the US, and more overseas. He wasn't pulling in $180 million anymore, granted, but he wasn't totally dead in the water, either.
"War of the Worlds" (2005)
Gross: $234 million
American audiences seemed ready for another big Tom Cruise movie, and he delivered in a huge way with "War of the Worlds". Based on the radio-play that caused mass pandemonium when it was first broadcast, "War of the Worlds" was a worldwide hit, and further established Dakota Fanning as the child actress everyone needed to hire stat.
"Mission: Impossible III" (2006)
Gross: $133 million
Then the bell curve kicked in big time. After the frenetic action of "War of the Worlds", a return to the world of Ethan Hunt seemed somehow anticlimactic. "M:I3" cost $150 million to make, but fell short of the mark by nearly $20 million. Again, overseas sales were brisk, and it made a profit, but not with American audiences.
Gross: $83 million
After appearing in a smaller role in the box office smash, "Tropic Thunder", Tom Cruise decided to go the historical action drama route again with "Valkyrie". Though it received solid reviews, it was only marginally successful. It made back its $75 million budget over the course of the next year, but was not as successful as its producing studio, MGM, had hoped for by a long shot.
"Knight and Day" (2010)
Gross: $76 million
You'd think throwing action star, Tom Cruise, in a movie with Cameron Diaz, hot off of her "Charlie's Angels" work, would be a surefire win. Instead, it was a total misfire. The film lost nearly $40 million at the US box office. It faired slightly better overseas, but not by much. The chemistry between the leads was lacking, and frankly, everyone just seemed tired.
"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011)
Gross: $209 million
The fourth installment of the "Mission Impossible" franchise saw a welcome return to form for Mr. Cruise. Surrounded by a new, and quirkier assortment of team members, the gently rebooted franchise felt cool again. It made scads of money everywhere. It seemed like things were back on an upswing for Tom.
"Jack Reacher" (2012)
Gross: $80 million
Then it kind went downhill from there. He began 2012 with an appearance in the movie musical, "Rock of Ages". The film tanked, and suddenly, the bell curve re-asserted itself in a major way. "Jack Reacher" was Cruise's attempt to launch another franchise, and get back to his action roots… and it didn't quite work. Fans of the Jack Reacher book series wailed about Tom Cruise taking on the role as being close to sacrilegious. The subject matter wasn't exactly family friendly, and it seemed both too close to "Mission: Impossible", and not close enough to really attract anyone.
Gross: $89 million
"Oblivion" had all the makings of a cool movie, except that nobody saw it. While $89 million at the box office is a perfectly respectable number, it's a death knell if the movie cost $120 million to make, and if you're Tom Cruise. Universal Pictures poured a lot into the marketing campaign, and came up empty handed. There was actually nothing particularly wrong with the movie. It's a solid sci-fi project. It's just another movie starring Tom Cruise, that's sort of like… all the other movies starring Tom Cruise. (Shrug.)
"Edge of Tomorrow" (2014)
Gross: $28 million (opened June 6)
So, of course the thing to do when your last sci-fi project tanked is to make another sci-fi project with an even bigger budget. Yes. That's exactly what to do. "Edge of Tomorrow", which, as mentioned before, has received excellent reviews, has also only made $28 million of its nearly $180 million budget back. In general, the opening weekend box office for a film is an indication of how much it's going to make over the course of its theatrical run. A $28 million opening is pretty close to dismal for a film that cost six times that amount.
Critics and movie analysts have had a few things to say about why the film is tanking, comparatively speaking. Many have cited a combination of the audience demographic being largely older males, a surprisingly lazy marketing campaign, a lack of interest in sci-fi films unless they are part of a superhero franchise, the astronomical cost of seeing a movie in the theaters and, you guessed, dwindling interest in Tom Cruise, as reasons for the film's disappointing debut. What's clear, however, is that Tom Cruise is definitely sliding down the bell curve. His next projects include "M:I5", "Top Gun 2" (yes, you read that correctly), and "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back". The "Jack Reacher" title is oddly ironic, since going back is what he is clearly doing with all of his current projects.
The jury is still out on exactly what started Tom Cruise's slow slide in popularity. Some critics point to "Eyes Wide Shut", and his subsequent divorce from Nicole Kidman. Some critics point to all of the weirdness surrounding his marriage to, and divorce from, Katie Holmes. Some critics point to his driving need to play the lead, which has limited the range of roles he has been able to play over the years. Some people point to just plain old fatigue. The man should just a break so we can forget about him for awhile. Then he can make a triumphant comeback in aging action star mode a la just about everyone in "The Expendables" franchise or even Sean Connery.
In the meantime, studios are trying to find another bankable star. Who will pick up where Tom Cruise seems to have left off? Who do American audiences want to see blowing stuff up? Jason Statham has already carved out a niche for himself, but he's never quite reached Cruise-ian status. Channing Tatum seemed poised to make a go at it this summer with "Jupiter Ascending", but that film was pushed back to February after dismal test audience response. Actors like Matt Damon, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, and Michael Fassbender, are somehow too good to be pigeon-holed into action flicks, even though they have played leading men in some very good ones. So who will it be? Or has the era of the action star ended? Only time will tell…