Why Tom Cruise Cannot Single-Handedly Save Cinema

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) © Paramount Pictures

In a time for cinemas that is proving both crucial and thoroughly contradictory, there are few cinematic certainties left to rely on for steady box office returns. In their most desperate hour, Tom Cruise has returned for the second time in the post-Covid era to remind us of his unstoppable star-power and box office success. This has led many to label Cruise as a saviour of cinema, including Spielberg himself. But no single Hollywood superstar can save cinema—not even Cruise.

It feels like the industry is in free fall as everyone—from the movie studios to the cinemas themselves—scramble to find out what will guarantee audiences in seats. This fear has been compounded by a seeming tide-shift in public opinion on previous box office draws. Superhero movies especially seem to be going the way of the western—fading from fashion. Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), Shazam: Fury of the Gods (2023), and most recently The Flash (2023), have been poorly received by critics and audiences alike, proving to be box office losses for both Marvel and DC.

Now, more so than ever in recent memory, movie studios are searching for their newest cash cow. But cinema is unpredictable, and putting the responsibility on the shoulders of just a handful of actors to combat the unsteady tides of audience trends and the inherent difficulties that come with filmmaking in a post-Covid world is far too insurmountable. This is why Tom Cruise, despite his status as one of our last movie-stars, cannot save cinema.

The Star-power of Tom Cruise

There is no denying Cruise’s everlasting legacy as one of our last-remaining global movie-stars—and I certainly do not wish to tarnish this image. Indeed, the marketing for his latest movie, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, has smartly leaned into Cruise’s overt dedication to filmmaking and stunt-work, both of which are still incredible to see. Cruise has never been bigger, and with the mega-hit that was Top Gun: Maverick (2022) still very much in the public’s consciousness, there does not seem to be anyone on the surface who has the star-power to dethrone Cruise as our cinematic saviour.  

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) © Paramount Pictures

With that being said, there are still people like me—despite my minority position—that do not worship at the altar of Tom Cruise. Calling him a saviour is not only counterintuitive to the continuation of this upward trajectory, but wholly unhelpful when considering the wider context of the issue. In a time of cinematic uncertainty, hitching our wagon to one actor will never be the long-term solution cinemas need.

Granted, Cruise is a rare case in that he has managed to outlive countless actors and make the impressive journey from brat-pack teen actor, to dramatic stalwart that worked with the likes of Kubrick and Scorsese, to the fully-fledged action star he is today. But even Cruise cannot be seen as cinematically impenetrable. Just like everyone else in the world of cinema, he is subject to the unpredictable tides of studio cluelessness and audience opinion. Take The Mummy (2017), a cinematic disaster that many—including Cruise—hopes you forget.  

Issues With The Term ‘Saviour’

I am not one to play devil’s advocate when it comes to cinema; I can only predict what will hit and what will miss. But just as trends come and go, there will come a day when Cruise, like the superhero genre, will fade out of fashion. Whilst we should enjoy such a dedicated actor whilst he is still making great films, we cannot live in the fantasy-world that actors like Cruise will be around forever. No actor can single-handedly save cinema—not even Cruise.  

The term saviour is heavily loaded and carries many implications. Whilst Cruise is a star, he is not the sole reason why people attend his films. Take Miles Tellers’ rise in popularity following Top Gun: Maverick, or Hayley Atwell’s return to form following Dead Reckoning. Cinema, like all things trend-orientated, is a transient force—and Cruise is not the controller of this. Both Teller and Atwell have fanbases that will be around after Cruise takes his final bow.

 Top Gun: Maverick (2022) © Paramount Pictures

My point is that Cruise is not bigger than any of these other actors, even if his cinematic currency is more highly valued. He may be the main poster-boy, but he should not be elevated to a higher status. Indeed, this is not a status that Cruise wants for himself. Cruise has shown himself in various interviews and promotional material to be a servant of the cinematic experience; he does not make movies for his own ego. He makes them because he loves movies and wants people to experience them with the quality touch he offers. The expectation of being a ‘saviour’ is unrealistic. It is an unfair label to place on anyone, implying it will be the fault of major Hollywood movie stars if cinemas face renewed financial instability in the future.

Tom Cruise Versus The Competition

This is not to mention the fierce competition that Cruise has failed to rise above. As I write this, we are in the throes of the most lively and contagious cinematic moments of my lifetime: ‘Barbenheimer’. It is safe to say that both Barbie (2023) and Oppenheimer (2023) have garnered public intrigue like nothing else. It has become a cultural and financial phenomenon and has managed to do the impossible by dwarfing what would have been another Tom Cruise-dominated summer.

Moments like Barbenheimer, that transcend cinema and become cultural events in their own right, are few-and-far between. Yet cinemas do not need too many of them—or even moments of this scale—to determine what the public will go to see. This is not to say that Tom Cruise is being eliminated from the equation. Whilst he is making money for Hollywood, he will always be a part of the conversation. However, Hollywood is a fickle beast, and as Barbenheimer has evidenced, Cruise is not guaranteed a seat at the table.  

Barbie (2023) © Warner Bros. Pictures

With this, he cannot be seen as a saviour of cinema. We are in a transitional period, and a fresh batch of young faces both in-front and behind the camera are emerging to lead the next generation. This does not make Cruise irrelevant—far from it. What it does mean is that with each passing day, trends in the kind of films people want to see are changing, and I do not think Cruise is a part of this.  

There has never been a real correlation between audience trends and a studio’s ability to properly capitalise on them. With every trend that peaks and fades, there is always the question of what else could be done to innovate. Tom Cruise seems to be on a hot-streak, and his desire to push himself to produce amazing moments needs to be applauded. Whilst we clap however, Hollywood is busy creating its next formula. Perhaps Barbie’s success will see a trend towards more female-directed studio films, something that could breathe fresh air into staling franchises. Perhaps the persistent rise of A24 films will result in a push to copy their indie-style techniques. This transition period feels like a time to gently push out the old guard whilst giving credit to those who have greatly enhanced the art form.  

The Way Ahead

In sum, despite Cruise’s box office power, he is not its sole saviour. With bigger questions being asked of studios as to why they are refusing to pay their union members fairly, cinema and its priorities are in flux. This does not mean that the drive to get audiences back to cinemas and away from streaming services will end. What it does mean however, is that the need to save cinemas is bigger than any one actor’s charm and athletic prowess.

Instead of resting on our laurels and assuming that Cruise will always be around to fling himself off skyscrapers for our entertainment, we need to look beyond him and other superstars, and ask what cinema needs saving from. The solution is always going to be multifaceted, but it will never come in the form of one actor, no matter how everlastingly youthful they look. Instead of relying on individual Hollywood stars, we need to look longer term.

New pathways need to be formed away from studio greed and an over-reliance on old formulas. Whilst this is certainly easier said than done, I firmly believe that once Cruise’s time has passed, he will relinquish his ‘saviour’ status and stand next to us as a fellow lover of cinema, to ask the same questions we are asking ourselves.  

Words by James Evenden

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