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5 Ways for Tom Cruise to Resurrect His Career

"The Mummy" may not be a total disaster, but it's indicative of an actor who has stalled out in his quest for continued movie stardom.

Tom Cruise The Mummy

“The Mummy”

Universal Pictures

Tom Cruise’s latest starring role in a franchise-facing actioner may not be the out-and-out disaster so many pictured when the first reviews for “The Mummy” started rolling in (current Rotten Tomatoes score: 17%, his second-lowest of all-time), but it’s still worrisome for a tentpole film meant to launch an entirely new franchise. Box office aside, “The Mummy” points to another troubling element in Cruise’s career: woeful repetition.

Cruise remains one of Hollywood’s last big movie stars, a bankable talent who almost exclusively stars in major films that are expected to make a pretty penny at the box office. In recent years, Cruise has leaned hard on large-scale studio projects, from the enduringly popular “Mission: Impossible” franchise to pricey studio outings like “Oblivion” and “Rock of Ages,” and while he’s still a major marquee name, his career is lacking the kind of daring and exciting choices that once made it stand out.

“The Mummy” is just a continuation of that trend, and a mightily disappointing one at that. Instead of worrying about launching yet another franchise, Cruise should focus on bringing his own career — a long one, and one that should continue on for many years to come — back into focus. Here are five ways he can do just that.

READ MORE: Review: ‘The Mummy’ Is The Worst Tom Cruise Movie Ever

1. Reunite With the Directors Who Inspire Him

Over the course of his career, Cruise has worked with his fair share of noted auteurs — from Cameron Crowe to Michael Mann and Paul Thomas Anderson, just to name a few — and it’s no coincidence that the films he’s made with those filmmakers are typically listed as the highlights of his career. Cruise’s daring turn as damaged huckster Frank T.J. Mackey in Anderson’s “Magnolia” is often regarded as his finest — and most unexpected — performance ever, a high-wire act of bravado and pain that he hasn’t touched since. That role was sandwiched in between Cruise’s Crowe two-fer, the emotionally raw but still charming as hell “Jerry Maguire” and the ambitious misfire that was “Vanilla Sky.” Late-’90s and early aughts Cruise was arguably the actor’s most daring period, punctuated by projects and roles that asserted Cruise’s talent and his interest in doing something different at every turn (remember “Eyes Wide Shut”? remember that Tom Cruise?).

“Jerry Maguire”

By the mid-aughts, Cruise was already starting to slip into retread, including uninspired fare like “War of the Worlds” and ill-concieved entries like “The Last Samurai,” though that daring streak was still present in something like Mann’s “Collateral,” which ambitiously imagined Cruise as a cold-blooded contract killer who goes up against a beleaguered everyman, played by Jamie Foxx. Cruise is plenty loyal to his filmmakers, including Edward Zwick and Doug Liman, but it’s been far too long since he teamed up with directors who excel at discovering new facets of the actor and his talents. Reteam Cruise with those sorts of helmers, encourage him to tap back into that kind of creative energy, and the actor could easily embark on another fruitful and compelling period that makes the last one look like just a warm-up.

2. Don’t Try to Make Another Franchise Happen

Cruise’s franchise roster is a dizzying one, from stalwarts like “Mission: Impossible” to questionable additions like the so-called Dark Universe, but even that hefty load doesn’t seem to satiate him. He’s tried to make the “Jack Reacher” series work, and he’s still gunning to make a sequel to “Top Gun” that we can only imagine would open up some other stupid cinematic universe. Stop now.

The “Jack Reacher” series is not a money-maker, and its returns are only diminishing (the first film made just $80 million in domestic returns, its followup couldn’t even crack $60 million), despite Cruise’s dedication to toplining yet another action franchise when it seems so clear that most movie-goers are much more interested in the increasingly jaw-dropping “M:I” films. And that’s to say nothing of his unholy desire to resurrect “Top Gun,” thanks to a sequel he’s been gabbing about for nearly a decade now. Cruise is in the enviable position of already leading a much-loved and hugely profitable series in “Mission: Impossible,” which is currently marching onward to its sixth entry, due out next year. That’s the crown jewel, Tom. Nothing else is going to top it, and other attempts at doing just that have unabashedly failed along the way.

3. Focus on Franchises That Do Work

Despite persistent chatter that Cruise was going to pass the “Mission: Impossible” torch to co-star Jeremy Renner two films back, he’s remained the star of the ever-expanding franchise (Renner, it seems, isn’t even in the upcoming Christopher McQuarrie-directed sequel), bolstering his star power and his reputation of being ruthlessly, occasionally crazily dedicated to marquee stunts.

While “The Mummy” includes a much-hyped plane crash, frequently billed as Cruise’s most daring stunt yet, the action sequences that really stand out from his career all come from “Mission: Impossible” movies. From the sweat-laden wire hang in the first film to its amusing underwater followup in “Rogue Nation” to the jaw-dropping signature stunt in “Ghost Protocol” (the one that had Cruise dangling 100 feet up from a Dubai skyscraper, you know the one), action star Cruise already has his best showcase in the series.

"Edge of Tomorrow"

“Edge of Tomorrow”

Warner Bros.

But that’s not to say that Cruise needs to put every franchise egg in one basket, because while both the Dark Universe and “Jack Reacher” aren’t the series he needs right now, there’s at least one other long-simmering sequel (no, not “Top Gun 2,” stop it) that deserves another share from the actor: “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Director Doug Liman (who just directed Cruise in his “American Made,” the pair certainly seem to enjoy each other) has been very vocal about his desire to re-team Cruise with Emily Blunt for a followup to their criminally underseen sci-fi adventure, and while that kind of chatter edges into “Top Gun 2” territory, at least it’s in service to a film that should definitely be made, and only with Cruise back for more. Few films have so perfectly captured so many sides of Cruise as the “Groundhog Day”-esque outing, which cannily combines his humor, charm, and damn-big-action-sequence skill set into one hugely enjoyable thrill ride.

4. Opt For More Supporting Turns

When Tom Cruise stars in a movie, he stars in a movie. The actor rarely goes for supporting roles or bit parts, but when he does, it’s resulted in some of the more compelling entries on his resume. While he was arguably the star of “Rock of Ages,” he was part of a sprawling ensemble cast that seemed to free up the actor to seriously let loose, while a similar scenario played out in the far darker “Lions for Lambs,” which was punctuated by an underappreciated dramatic turn from the actor.

READ MORE: Tom Cruise Could Learn a Few Things From Sam Elliott — IndieWire’s Movie Podcast (Screen Talk Episode 152)

Cruise shouldn’t shy away from so-called smaller roles, which could offer up the chance to work on a slew of different projects with different directors. Tom Cruise is a movie star of the highest order, but opting for smaller, meatier bits could do wonders for reestablishing him as an actual actor.

5. Keep Showing Off His Comedic Chops

The world needs more of this:

Tom Cruise is funny, but his amusing ability to turn his laser focus onto to more light-heareted outings has been dormant for far too long. Why not another supporting role that hinges on humor? (Dancing is, of course, not required, but definitely advised).

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