This is an updated version of a post published in August, 2010.
Stating that a rising star is the next…whoever…isn’t something new in Hollywood. They’re always looking for the next big thing because like it or not, the stars we grow up with eventually get old, lose their spark, their charisma, their audience. Over the past few years, one of the biggest names in Hollywood, Tom Cruise, has seen somewhat of a dimming of his once bright star. His latest film, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, is set to open later this week. It will be a telling sign whether Mr. Cruise still has the box-office clout he possessed over the past two decades. A very telling sign.
Cruise’s last film (his 32nd), the highly entertaining “Knight and Day”, was a box-office disappointment and Hollywood (and the celebrity tabloids) have already started their search for the up-and-coming young actor who might just be “the next Tom Cruise”. Will it be Zac Efron? Robert Pattinson? Taylor Lautner? Perhaps. But it’s gonna take far more than a winning smile and some acting talent to fill Mr. Cruise’s massive shoes. Cruise has had an impressive run as Hollywood’s mightiest star and, despite three Academy Award nominations, one of it’s most under-appreciated actors. But Cruise is also an actor who has taken some of the biggest risks of any other actor in history…and won.
To understand the progression of Tom Cruise as an actor, one must go back to his earliest appearances in films. After making his film debut with a small part in 1981’s “Endless Love“, he landed the role of hot-headed cadet David Shawn in “Taps” (1981). The film, which also featured fellow up and coming actors Sean Penn & Timothy Hutton, received favorable reviews as did its young cast. It was Hutton and Penn, however, who were billed the next great actors of their generation (they went on to star together in “The Falcon and the Snowman” in 1985). And Cruise? Like Efron today – handsome, promising, marketable.
Cruise’s next film, 1983’s “The Outsiders” (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) would put him alongside another cast of future stars: C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, & Ralph Macchio. They were called the new “Brat Pack” and they were poised to take over Hollywood. This was more of a fit for a young Tom Cruise, no? Let Penn, Hutton, and subsequently Matt Dillon go after Oscar nominations. This new ‘Brat Pack’ can sell tickets, which is infinitely more important to Hollywood.
After starring in the ill-fated “Losin’ it” with Shelly Long, Cruise was given top-billing in his next film “All The Right Moves”, a coming-of-age story about a high school footballer (Cruise) whose ticket out of his small Pennsylvania mill town is a scholarship to a big school. The film put Cruise on the map and he then went on to hit superstar status playing an affluent sex-starved suburban teenager in the hit movie “Risky Business” (1983). Mr. Cruise had finally arrived.
After being horribly miscast in Ridley Scott’s enjoyable (well, at least to me it was) and visually stunning film “Legend”, Cruise flexed serious box-office muscle in Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” . The film grossed over $300 million world-wide and made Tom Cruise an international superstar. Still not a darling of the critics, however, but so what? Selling tickets at the box-office and having your Teen Magazine poster hung in every 15-year-old girl’s bedroom is every young actor’s dream, right Mr. Efron? Perhaps not for young Tom Cruise.
The Road Less Traveled
Well, here’s where I believe Tom Cruise decided to take the road less traveled by his fellow ‘Brat Packers’. For his next film, Cruise took a huge risk to star alongside Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’s “The Color of Money” (1986). In the film, Cruise plays Vincent, a smiling, cocky, but hopelessly insecure and naïve character while Newman reprises his role as “Fast Eddie” Felson from the 1961 classic “The Hustler”. Surely, Cruise would be rendered obsolete sharing the screen with the great Paul Newman (who would go on to win his first Academy Award for “Best Actor”). This type of role was best left to the likes of Hutton or Dillon. . .no?
In a surprising turn, Cruise received the best reviews of his career. Richard Schickel of Time proclaimed: “There is a ferocity in Cruise’s flakiness that he has not previously had a chance to tap…and it carries him beyond the bounds of image, the movie beyond the bounds of genre.” Cruise’s gamble had paid off. He took his career as just a pretty-boy actor in another direction. He took a risk…and it worked.
Mr. Cruise went on to take an even bigger risk when he co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in 1988’s “Rain Man”. Now, any actor knows that when you star alongside an actor of Mr. Hoffman’s stature AND said actor is playing a character who is handicapped (or gay), you’ve got to work really hard to get noticed. Why would Cruise, still one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, want to now duke it out on screen with the likes of Hoffman?
As it turned out, the film was a critical and box-office success. Reviews of Cruise’s performance, however, were mixed. Desson Howe of the Washington Post wrote: “Hoffman blows costar Cruise right off the screen. Likable as he is, Cruise confuses spunk for performance.” While Vincent Camby of the NY Times stated: “The film’s true central character, though he’s not the center of attention, is the confused, economically and emotionally desperate Charlie, beautifully played by Mr. Cruise, even when he is put into the position of acting as straight-man to his co-star.”
Tom Cruise & Oliver Stone?
Cruise then took still his biggest career risk to date playing paralyzed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989). Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone? Surely this was going to end badly. The film, however, garnered rave reviews and earned Cruise his first Academy Award nomination for “Best Actor”. Roger Ebert echoed my own sentiments after seeing the movie: “Nothing Cruise has done will prepare you for what he does in Born on the Fourth of July.”
But by now we shouldn’t be surprised when Cruise challenges himself, challenges us. He has taken career risks that no other actor of his generation has dared do. In 1992, Cruise went up against one of the greatest actors of all time, Jack Nicholson, in the courtroom drama “A Few Good Men”. You’re really asking for it when you want to go “macho for macho” with Nicholson (who earned an Oscar nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for his role in the film) playing a cigar-chomping, crusty Marine commander in a role Richard Schickel of Time Magazine claimed was, “…not so much played as demonized.” Yikes! But like the heroes he plays, he seems to conquer whatever comes his way with his legendary work ethic and unwavering dedication. “Working with Tom is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given by this business.” ~Steven Spielberg.
Fast forward to 1996’s “Mission: Impossible”. Cruise is cast for the first time as a lead in an action movie, a genre that can exploit even the most skilled of actors (just ask Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer or Brad Pitt). But, again, Cruise is up to the task, as Stephen Holden of the NY Times put it: “Tom Cruise has found the perfect superhero character on which to graft his breathlessly gung-ho screen personality.” The film (and it’s sequel in 2000) go on to gross almost a billion dollars worldwide making Cruise Hollywood’s biggest star.
The Bad Guy
And in 2004, Cruise took yet another huge risk playing a villain (for the first time in his career) in Michael Mann’s gritty crime thriller “Collateral”. In the film, Cruise plays the cold-blooded hitman Vincent who’s in town for the night to rub out five targets. Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer put it best in his comparison of Cruise to two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks: “As for Mr. Cruise, he’s taken something of a career risk here – almost but not quite the same risk that Tom Hanks took with his roles as the gay lawyer in Philadelphia (1993) and the mobster in Road to Perdition (2002). For one thing, Mr. Hanks has been overrated as a supposedly subtle character actor just as much as Mr. Cruise has been underrated. For another, Mr. Hanks has never played a role as unabashedly monstrous and menacing as Mr. Cruise’s Vincent.”
So, how many of us ever dare measure ourselves up to our competition? How many aspiring filmmakers fail to enter film competitions because they’re afraid of their film being rejected? Professional speakers who shy away from sharing the same stage with other speakers for fear they might be outshined? Actors who fail to even audition for a role because they hear that another actor who they consider superior is also auditioning? How many of us fail to go after a promotion at our work because, despite confidence in our abilities, we don’t want to find out that we just don’t measure up?
Think Tom Cruise got success handed to him on a platter? Think again. This is an actor who came from a broken home (his mother left his father when Cruise was twelve, taking him and his three sisters with her). An actor who would say of his estranged father, “He was a bully and a coward.” An actor who spent his childhood on the move and by the time he was 14 had attended 15 different schools in the US and Canada. An actor who at one time aspired to become a Catholic priest. An actor who dropped out of High School and headed to New York in pursuit of an acting career despite suffering from dyslexia. “People can create their own lives.” Cruise once said in an interview with Parade Magazine. “I saw how my mother created hers and made it possible for us to survive”. Despite his many challenges, Tom Cruise created his own life…why shouldn’t we?
And Then There Was One
As for Cruise’s apparently equally talented “Brat Packers” C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estévez? Their careers have long-since fizzled out. Their filmographies suggests they decided to take the easier roles, the ones they were comfortable playing. They rarely, if ever took the types of risks with their careers that Cruise had taken. And as for the careers of those “clearly” more talented than Cruise, Timothy Hutton (who actually won an Academy Award in 1981) and Matt Dillon? Their careers never reached their once promising potential. Perhaps they didn’t work as hard as Cruise did because they started to believe all the hype. Or maybe Cruise was simply the better actor all along. Only Sean Penn has remained relevant, now considered one of his generation’s finest actors. Major box-office success, however, has eluded Penn throughout his career.
The German-American theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.” But Tom Cruise did more than just take risks, he put himself in as good a position to succeed as possible by working with the types of directors that have a history of getting the best from their actors: Scorsese, Levinson, Stone, Pollack, De Palma, Kubrick, Spielberg, Mann. How often do we gravitate to those that can help us succeed? That can help us get to the next level? Cruise himself has said: “When I work, I work very hard. So I look to work with people who have that level of dedication. And I depend on that from everyone. From the director to my crews that I work with.” Take a look at the supporting cast around you – are they working as hard as you? Are they as dedicated?
One of today’s rising young stars, Zac Efron, has said that he admires Cruise’s legendary “drive” and “focus” but that he is not the 21st-century version of the ’80s star. “I’m not the next Tom Cruise because there will never be another.” proclaimed Mr. Efron. “I don’t want to go and copy Top Gun.” Top Gun? I think young Zac misses the point. Many young actors have had “Top Gun” success and I’m sure one day even Mr. Efron will also. The path that leads a young actor to such success is wide and welcoming – but it’s a short road. The question is whether these new rising stars will ever venture off that road, to a road that’s not as wide nor welcoming. The road that only those who are not afraid to fail dare to travel.
How about you, do you dare?
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The Outsiders was such an eye opening movie no matter how anyone spins it. Forget about the fact that it spawned countless numbers of actors (yum Diane Lane) that would define the next 30 years of Hollywood gems, it frankly was one heck of a story.
Great write up DP. Stay Golden!
Few have made it as far as Mr. Cruise has and none have enjoyed the success he has had over the past 20 years. Gotta tip your hat…
Thanks for the comment 🙂
Sure, some people might consider him to be nutty but on his career alone, he’s dared to go up against some of the greatest actors of his generation and work with some of the greatest directors of all time…and that’s why he’s left his contemporaries in the dust.
Nice to see you here, Happy Holidays, my dear 🙂
Great post. Very few actors achieve so much. Very few reach this level of stardom. Hollywood has a totally outsized impact on the world. Until not that long ago box office receipts were about $10bil with many major studios. What other industry can a $1bil a year business (not including external revenues) have as much impact as a $100bil company? So they need Tom Cruises. You get yours it could propel you for 10-20 years!
So going to ask your opinion. Both Tom and Mel Gibson were great actors who took lots of risk, made a ton of money then turned out to be whackos (my opinion of course). I can never watch them in a movie again because of their off screen persona now makes me think ICK with a major ICKx2.
Were they always this way and hid it or did fame twist them into something of a caricature of weirdness? Others like this are Nicolas Cage but he is not the vanity headcase Tom is or the racist/uber zealot Mel is. He just seems like a pot smoker who spends too much (but then he did marry Priscilla Presely!)
I find it impossible to be THAT famous and still be considered “normal”. We’re privy to so little that goes on in their personal lives (except those snippets from the tabloids) that I usually refrain from judging them. Nobody’s perfect, we all say/do dumb shit all the time but because we’re not famous, nobody cares 🙂
Maybe one day…
I agree Daniel. I know too much about Mel Gibson from my days in LA, the ultra religious, anti abortion, conservative who built his own secretive church the LA times sent someone to check out and was kind of cultish. But then the stuff with the love child, cheating, drunkeness, and jew hating combined with that…bad dude in my opinion. Love his acting and hate that I can’t watch his films anymore because of that. (goes with the Frank Miller stuff don’t care if you are a genius if you are a fucktard you get no money from me nor a care of what you do…just me btw my own ethics rules).
As for Tom to tell you the truth I just see IMMENSE Vanity…but then he does have a napoleanic complex due to his height. You would think his fame would negate that. Michael J Fox never got this. Though his career was cut short. And while he is a crazy Scientologist the one reason I hate those people is the 3 years I spent helping homeless street kinds in Hollywood. While I was giving food and clothes to kids who come from abused backgrounds and trying to build their esteem and get them off the street…the massive Scientology Center was courting middle class and above people and thumbing their nose at anyone truly in need. But that doesn’t mean Tom thumbs his nose. So he at least has enough of the enigma status for me to take your argument and be open minded 8)
I mean Arnold was a pot smoking, socially liberal, pro-environment guy who treated his employees like gold (I used to have Oak Tree Productions as an account in the early 90s and worked with his personal assistant) and was mostly that as governor but then he was bought by the business lobby really badly. So yes none of us is perfect.
I am a big fan of many of Cruise’s movies. My favorite is A Few Good Men. I’ve seen that movie so many times. Since he’s gone over the deep end with the Scientology, I’ve liked him less and less. We did just go and see the new Mission Impossible movie. Highly entertaining and worth the admission price. Looks like he produced it. Not many actors can become as powerful as him. He definitely has some sort of drive and ambition that most people don’t.
Totally not even gonna get into Cruise’s personal life (or any other famous person’s) because we rarely know the truth (and I really could care less about celebrities and their personal lives). But based on his career accomplishments, he’s tough to beat.
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I”m just not so sure how i feel about Tom Cruise. I’m gonna go ahead and say that I loved him circa Risky Business and Top Gun (as everyone did) and I don’t dislike him because he’s old or lost his lustre, but moreso cus he’s a crazy pants. No offense to scientologists out there, but gees. And then the whole mid life crisis marrying someone twenty yrs younger kinda creeps me out.
But, nothing against mission impossible. So, we’ll see. Have a fabulous new year badassgirlcult manager!! Give doggy a kiss for me.
He might just be a crazy pants (who really knows anything about someone that famous?) but after watching MI4 I can tell you that the man can still carry an a film like few actors can.
Wishing you a badass 2012 (Woof!)
Love this! I just saw the most recent Mission Impossible in the theater and was thinking about how dynamic he is as an actor — I mean, even after all of his personal stuff was ridiculed and he went a little crazy (but I mean, who hasn’t?), the man can still bring a role to life. And you must not forget his role in Tropic Thunder — Brilliant!
Real movie stars carry their films. Period. Tom Cruise is a real movie star. Nuff said.
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Tom Cruise Jacket
mission-impossible has done great business before lets see now
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