What elixir of youth fuels Tom Cruise? The actor is not Born on July 4, as in Oliver Stone’s film, but on July 3, exactly sixty years ago. It does not appear. Does he owe his Faustian youth to the love of his fans?
In Top Gun: Maverick an admiral attacks pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Cruise: “Your species is on the verge of extinction.” The answer fuses: “Maybe. But it’s not for tomorrow.” Demonstration: Top Gun: Maverick passed the $1 billion mark in revenue.
Despite three divorces, escapades, a freewheeling “couch” sequence with Oprah Winfrey or his proselytism in favor of the Church of Scientology, the actor has rarely left the heights since, at 24, he obtained a million dollars to play in the first Top Gun.
His forty-four films total $9.5 billion in revenue. During the decade 2000-2010, nine of his ten films earned more than 100 million dollars. Also a producer, he weighs 600 million dollars.
“Highest success rate”
Tom Cruise is the last representative of an endangered species: the Hollywood superstar. Incarnation of the blockbuster, its longevity exceeds that of the stars Eigthies : the Stallones, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis…
Whether we love him or annoy him, we must grant him that he lives only for the cinema. He resists streaming platforms and superheroes… He hammered it at the Cannes Film Festival: “Top Gun: Maverick was made for the big screen.” “Tom Cruise is one of the actors in the history of cinema who in his choices, in his projects, in his work has the greatest success rate”justified Thierry Frémaux, general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival.
At a time when the majority of blockbusters are designed around franchises (the Intellectual Properties), his name is the last around which we build a blockbuster. He is the brand, forged since 1986, when, on the eve of the release of the first Top Gunthe 24-year-old star told the magazine Interview : “I work for the long haul. I get high. Because I know what I want.”
Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was born in Syracuse, New York. He is the youngest and only boy of four children. Dyslexic, he feels excluded at school. In addition, the family moved according to the jobs of a father whom Cruise portrayed as a domestic tyrant, according to his biographer Andrew Morton. He was eleven years old when his parents divorced. He stays with his mother and three sisters.
Of Catholic education, the young man spent a year in a Franciscan seminary. He briefly cherishes the intention of being a priest, then dreams of being a top athlete. Following a knee injury, he turned to the theater, teased by his mother. Based in New York, the kid of modest origins embraces the dream of the Reagan years: to earn a lot of money, quickly and well.
“A Lively Kid”
He stands out in Taps (1981) by Harold Becker, as a young conscript who freaks out. Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton are in on the fun. “I was offered all the roles of serial killers” in the movies slashers typical of the time. He refuses. “I heard about the new film by Francis Ford Coppola”, Outsiders. All the ambitious young people are part of the adventure: Nicolas Cage, Mickey Rourke, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez… At the height of his twenty years, the beginner goes to see the director of Godfather : “I don’t care about the role: I want to work with you.”
“Tom Cruise was a lively kid who would have done anything to improve his role”, remembered Coppola in 2021 for the Guardian. To the point of stuffing himself with brownies for three days for a scene that the director made him repeat a hundred times. It is unclear which of the two was trying to show the other that he would have the last word. Coppola’s ambition has ruined him. That of Tom Cruise takes him to the top.
During the filming ofOutsiders, he landed the lead role in Risky Business by Paul Brickman. He plays Joel, a wealthy young man who aspires to enter Princeton University. His escapades lead him to associate with a prostitute to quickly raise money.
Risky Business inaugurates the teen movie of the 1980s. Pretending to question neoliberalism, it makes it sexy and cool. Tom Cruise imposes himself by dancing in his underwear to the classic “Old Time Rock&Roll”. The director gives him carte blanche for a scene that fits in one sentence in the script (“Joel Dances in the House”). The film propels him. He is only 21 years old.
Top Gun was started at the same time. The studio signs him a check for one million dollars: he is already bankable. He gets the right to watch the script and the film – something rare for a 24-year-old actor. He looks at the rushes, validates the editing. He sits in the cockpits with Navy veterans. the Cruise Controlas the title then the magazine Time, is in motion. The teenager of Risky Business took control.
Top Gun is a cardboard. The studio offers him five million dollars for a sequel. He refuses. “During the filming of Top Gun, I thought to myself that I should work with famous actors and directors to learn”, he then declares. He tours with Paul Newman and Martin Scorsese (The color of money1986), Dustin Hoffman and Barry Levinson (Rain Man1988), Jack Nicholson and Rob Reiner (men of honor1992), Gene Hackman and Sydney Pollack (The firm1993).
From authors to action films
He tries his hand at an “Oscar role”, in Born on July 4 by Oliver Stone, based on the autobiography of broken Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. He won a Golden Globe but the Oscar escaped him in favor of Daniel Day Lewis (who won the first of his three Oscars in 1990).
Tom Cruise shares a taste for speed and motors with Paul Newman. They race together. Strengthened by this passion, he finds Tony Scott, the director of Top Gunfor Thunder Days. Failing that, it’s the same scenario on four wheels. The press notes that he locks himself in the roles of hotheaded sniper. The audience follows him.
There are still some surprises noticed like Interview with a Vampire (1994). Faced with his performance, Anne Rice, the author of the novel, who expressed doubts about the actor, publicly apologizes in a double page purchased from the press.
Thunder Days marked the meeting and love at first sight with Nicole Kidman. Their romance is the delight of the celebrity press and does not harm their image. They shoot three films as a couple.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Stanley Kubrick’s last film, is their swan song. The same year, he appeared in Magnolia of Paul Thomas Anderson as the guru of a sect, a nod to his open membership in the Church of Scientology.
From the 2000s, he reserved himself for blockbusters. The shift was initiated with Impossible mission (1996) by Brian De Palma. The series now has six films that will soon be completed by the diptych Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning.
There are still some happy associations (Minority Report and War of the Worlds with Steven Spielberg or Collateral with Michael Mann, one of his rare villainous roles). Having become a producer, he entrusts his films to factotums such as Joseph Kozinski (Oblivion, Top Gun: Maverick ) or Christopher McQuarrie (jack reacher and four Impossible mission).
In the early 2000s, he accumulated bad buzz: his promotion of Scientology on the set of War of the Worldsthe “sofa” sequence with Oprah Winfrey, the marriage and divorce with Katie Holmes… The Paramount studio is not renewing its production contract.
Since 2006, Tom Cruise the Scientologist and the bachelor has been discreet. The star is adorned with mystery behind his image as a stuntman and invested actor who refuses nothing. His “cinema lesson” at Cannes was a model of laughed-out banalities. His recipes are not doing any worse.
In The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) by Doug Liman, his character relives the same action in order to improve himself to save the world. A metaphor for the cruise program: playing the same film again and perpetuating the Hollywood superstar.