Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tom Cruise, Movie Mogul

A detailed story about Tom Cruise's "firing" from Paramount (his people insist the departure was already in the works when Sumner Redstone fired that broadside) and new deal with the slumbering studio MGM. Yes, Cruise gets to play with the UA logo, and yes, he and Paula Wagner agree the new entity is a "hybrid" between a production deal and a studio. But I still say it's silly to claim Cruise is running a studio. A studio, especially today, makes anywhere from 15-25 major films, as well as owning one or two "indie labels" like Fox Searchlight" that make "smaller" films and probably has a record label for soundtracks and a home DVD division. THAT'S a studio. Cruise and Wagner have a glorified production deal with new ideas of financing and profit participation and ANTICIPATE making 4-6 movies a year. There are independent producers that deliver that many titles to major studios right now and no one claims THEY are running a studio. Still, some of the details are interesting, most notably a drama directed by Robert Redford and starring Redford and Cruise and Meryl Streep. The budget is a tiny $35 mil for "Lions for Lambs" with the three stars deferring an upfront fee AND deferring a cut of the gross revenue in exchange for splitting (three ways?) half of the film's profit with UA. I'd love to know how they're determing "profit" since that debate is exactly why talent demands big money upfront or a cut of the gross, since there's no debate about what that means. Finally, Wagner is a tad defensive about charges their record is spotty for movies that don't star Cruise. She says anyone's record is "spotty" who makes enough movies. Fair enough, but they have precious few hits to claim. (They've made 12 movies in the past 13 years, by the way, far less than making six movies a year.)

Tom Cruise began work as a producer in 1996. His work as an actor on movies he DIDN'T produce has been impressive:

Jerry Maguire
Eyes Wide Shut
Minority Report
War Of The Worlds

All six films are critically acclaimed to one degree or another (Cruise has good taste), with Maguire and Collateral and Minority Report all substantial box office hits and War Of the Worlds Tom Cruise's top grossing film worldwide, with Magnolia a modestly budgeted film (and Cruise in a supporting role) and the Kubrick film in a category of its own.

Tom Cruise's work as an actor in films he's produced since 1996 has also been highly commercial:

Mission Impossible
Mission Impossible II
Vanilla Sky
The Last Samurai
Mission Impossible III

Sure, "Mission Impossible III" declined a bit in box office; that's usually what the second sequel in a franchise does, after all. It still grossed $400 mil worldwide and if the studio made such a dumb deal that they couldn't make a profit off $400 mil at the box office (not counting DVDs of course, which is worth at LEAST another $300 mil), then they deserve to get taken. Vanilla Sky was a critical flop, but it still grossed $200 mil worldwide. And "The Last Samurai" was a massive hit overseas (his biggest until War of the Worlds), grossing $111 mil here and $340 mil overseas.

But then we come to the point at hand: Tom Cruise as a producer of films he DOESN'T star in. How is his track record? Is it "spotty" or just plain weak?

Without Limits
The Others
Shattered Glass
Ask The Dust

Frankly, his work as a producer in films he doesn't star in isn't terribly extensive. He's made two awful films with his friend Robert Towne, one awful and indulgent disaster with his friend Cameron Crowe, one film with his ex-wife Nicole Kidman as the star, one film with director Joe Carnahan that led to Cruise hiring and then firing Carnahan from the "Mission Impossible" franchise and one well-regarded indie flick. I'd almost argue that Cruise hasn't ever really tried to do more than help some friends get their latest films made. He might do a good job at quadrupling his output of films and being involved with four or five a year instead of one, but he's never done it before. And the films he has produced for others have almost all been flops. Towne's movies "Without Limits" and "Ask The Dust" both made less than $1 million at the US box office and were duds on DVD as well. "Narc" made a modest $10.4 million at the US (but only cost $7 mil to make). But Cruise tried to elevate Carnahan to the first ranks and then broke with him very publicly. "Shattered Glass" is the film Cruise might be proudest of: it got great reviews and probably broke even, but it only grossed $2.2 mil in the US on a tiny budget of $6 mil. Elizabethtown grossed $50 mil WORLDWIDE on a budget of $56 mil, so it won't lose any money. But it severely damaged Crowe's tattered rep (after Vanilla Sky) and showed Cruise with a very weak producing hand given the turmoil in screenings and recuts the film endured to no avail. So of the SIX films Cruise has produced but not starred in during the last 11 or so years, only ONE has been a success by Hollywood standards. That's the horror-suspense film "The Others," which cost only $17 mil to make and grossed $200 million worldwide. Unfortunately, it did that to a large degree thanks to the growing starpower of Cruise's ex-wife Nicole Kidman. So his one big success as a producer was really Kidman's coming out as a star in her own right. That year, 2001, she and Cruise announced their separation, got their divorce and Kidman starred in "Moulin Rouge," a musical that grossed $177 mil worldwide and "The Others," which grossed $209 million worldwide. She also got all the sympathy. So even Cruise's one lone success story as a producer and not star has all sorts of caveats that take away from even that credit. The other five films show mostly a star working on pet projects of old friends and trying and failing to develop a new director. Would I want to work with Tom Cruise the movie star? Absolutely. Do I think Tom Cruise is a smart producer who can pick great, commercial projects? I don't know. I don't think he's even tried yet. But his record on six films as a producer isn't spotty. It's disastrous. But what a remarkable success as an actor. Since 1996:

Mission Impossible -- $456 mil worldwide
Jerry Maguire -- $274 mil worldwide
Eyes Wide Shut -- $86 mil worldwide (but it's Kubrick
Magnolia (indie w Cruise in supporting role) -- $48 mil worldwide
Mission Impossible II -- $546 mil worldwide
Vanilla Sky -- $202 mil worldwide
Minority Report -- $358 mil worldwide
The Last Samurai -- $456 mil worldwide
Collateral -- $217 mil worldwide
War Of The Worlds -- $591 mil worldwide
Mission Impossible III -- $395 mil worldwide

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