In August 1983, Ronald Reagan was president, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police was in the middle of an eight-week run as the #1 single, Ivanka Trump wasn’t quite two years old, and few people were aware of the Church of Scientology. And “Risky Business,” the first movie to star Tom Cruise, became a surprise hit.
34 years later, Cruise is at a different kind of crossroads at the box office. He’s been charged with rebooting Universal’s Mummy franchise, which will launch the studio’s “Dark Universe” story world. And while “The Mummy” has already opened strongly in its first date (South Korea), projections here are considerably less kind. Reviews have ranged from disappointing to incendiary, and “Wonder Woman” is expected to soundly beat the film in its opening weekend.
While “The Mummy” won’t be a career highlight, it’s an important film at this stage of Cruise’s career. In his mid-50s, he’s cast himself as a key player in Universal’s planned series of classic monster movie revivals. At the same age, John Wayne made “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Gary Cooper made “Friendly Persuasion;” James Stewart made “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation,” and Harrison Ford played a president in “Air Force One.
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It’s an unusual decision for the actor, who has favored standalone films (the”M:I” franchise and the recent two “Jack Reacher” films aside) and A-list directors, including Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and J.J. Abrams, among others.
Though most of Cruise’s films weren’t awards contenders or critics’ favorites, his career has always been respected for its a sense of quality control and care. A handful were career highlights for their helmers, including Barry Levinson’s “Rain Man,” Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July,” Cameron Crowe’s “Jerry Maguire,” Rob Reiner’s “A Few Good Men,” and Tony Scott’s “Top Gun.”
By contrast, with “The Mummy” he’s thrown his fate to comic book-adjacent, high-concept CGI directed by Alex Kurtzman. A successful producer and writer, his only directing credit was Disney’s 2012 family drama “People Like Us,” which grossed $12 million.
Cruise’s films have grossed $6.2 billion in domestic adjusted totals. His average gross per film is $167 million adjusted. And yet his biggest hit — “Top Gun,” at $424 million adjusted — ranks only #114 among all-time domestic hits. (By contrast, Harrison Ford has a career total of $9.8 billion, $3.2 billion of which came from his four “Star Wars” appearances). More than any other star over this period except perhaps Eastwood, he has been the central draw in his films.
A look at his top-grossing films, including the 10 best (adjusted) show success over each decade. Two come from the ’80s, five from the ’90s, two from the ’00s, one from the ’10s, and his most recent “Mission: Impossible” sits just below, at 11th.
Of his 36 lead roles, six of the lowest grossing come from the past decade. It includes his biggest failure, “Lion for Lambs,” Robert Redford’s Iraq war story with Meryl Streep ($19 million adjusted). The list also includes one of his most prestigious films, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.” His early Ridley Scott flop, “Legend” ($36 million), was followed within months by “Top Gun” and “The Color of Money.” Foreign has carried the day on his close calls over the last decade, with few exceptions.
Whatever “The Mummy” does (or doesn’t do), the actor still has the instincts for shaping perception. In recent promotional interviews, he revealed the title of the long-rumored “Top Gun” sequel (“Top Gun: Maverick”) and hinted on content. And it’s not the sole arrow in his quiver; he’s currently filming the sixth “Mission: Impossible.”
But “The Mummy” could be a turning point: Although he had less hands-on control here, he risks blame if it comes up short. Or — success could show, once again, that he’s an enduring star.