There has been, as there often is when a new Tom Cruise movie comes out, a lot of talk about the superstar's box-office drawing power. His "Edge of Tomorrow" got walloped by "Fault," as some outlets put it, crushing a resurgence that began to take root with "Oblivion," as others seemed to view it.
But there's the thing with Tom Cruise. He's made a lot of movies in the last six years. And with very few exceptions — specifically, the two movies outside his current career wheelhouse — he's produced remarkably similar results with all of them. In a time when many stars have enjoyed a meteoric rise or precipitous fall, Cruise has done neither. Which is strange. Sameness is the new weird.
Cruise is certainly far from the pack-'em-in star of a decade ago, the kind who can manage a "War of the Worlds"-like U.S. total ($234 million, $284 million in today's dollars) or even a "Minority Report"-like U.S. total ($132 million, $173 million in today's dollars). He is someone who delivers a lower number — but with surprising reliability.
Here's how it breaks down.
Basically, in any action movie that isn't a sequel, Cruise will land $75 million to $90 million in the U.S. And since Cruise predominantly makes action movies that aren't sequels these days, he'll almost always land $75 million to $90 million.
To wit: Nearly six years ago, with MGM ambitions running high and with a comeback bid in the air after the whole Matt Lauer-Oprah couch period, Cruise came out with the Nazi-hunting "Valkyrie," which grossed $83 million in the U.S. It was the start of a new trend line. The pattern continued with his Cameron Diaz/man-on-run actioner "Knight and Day" two years later ($76 million), continued to continue with the sniper action pic "Jack Reacher" in 2012 ($80 million) and continued once more last year with the effects-heavy action pic "Oblivion" ($89 million).
"Edge of Tomorrow"'s totals might seem surprising. But they're not. He'll land right in his familiar range once again with the Doug Liman scifi action pic, which opened with $28 million -- slightly off the pace of Cruise's usual range, but with above-average word-of-mouth it should end up right there all over again.
You might think the international box office has more upside. But there's much less volatility there than you'd expect either -- his numbers on all these pictures range from $135 million to $200 million. (The one exception was "Valkyrie," which fell just short with $117 million.) "Edge" will probably wind up somewhere in that ballpark once again -- the film has taken in $111 million in many major territories since opening two weeks ago. There are a few more still to come -- it still hasn't opened in Japan or France, for instance -- but they're unlikely to move the needle in a Marvel-like way.
The two exceptions to all this, of course, are the two movies Cruise has made that aren't original action movies. "Mission: Impossible" continues to be a highly lucrative franchise, so if a fifth one all comes off smoothly for next year, he'll be back to his old hugely popular self (the last one, in 2011, did nearly $700 million worldwide, and was the most highly lucrative of the bunch, pre-inflation). Then there's musical comedy, which didn't work out so well with "Rock of Ages" a couple of summers ago. (We'll discount his supporting part in "Tropic Thunder" since, for all the role's appeal, he wasn't the main box-office driver.)
None of this is to say that the numbers are great -- they're not, certainly by Cruise's previously high watermark. But any kind of reliability, even more modest reliability, is a good thing in today's Hollywood. The lesson for studios making these commercial originals, then, is simply to make these movies at a more reasonable budget. Which they've started to do, though that isn't always easy where the phrase "Tom Cruise action movie" is concerned.
Many actors get to a plateau in their careers and try mixing it up with smaller indies or movies well outside their wheelhouse. Not Cruise. A bunch of new development projects on his docket suggest he's continuing to eye these action originals. They'll continue to tally decent if not overwhelming totals. That's what Tom Cruise is doing these days. That's what he's been doing for a while.