Everyone loves talking about Tom Cruise. Last week was Tom Cruise Week at Grantland surrounding the release of the practically inexplicable fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible film franchise. The success of this movie, and praise for Cruise's performance -- exemplified by Matt Zoller Seitz's review, which breezily and pleasantly riffs on the star's persona -- has prompted a sort of full-career reevaluation of the star. As Bilge Ebiri at Vulture tells us, "It's Time to Start Liking Tom Cruise Again." He writes:
Like many viewers around my age, I had grown up watching these movies, but watching them all together, back to back, I was surprised at how well they held up -- and how riveting Cruise was in them. (Even some of the roles that seemed like a joke at the time, like his turn as the Vampire Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994), assumed a strange kind of beauty and intelligence.) Here was an actor who had given his all, and then some, and had made sure, to the best of his ability, to tackle interesting, challenging work -- even when it seemed at first like he was phoning it in.
This is a pretty fascinating place for critical (and, to look at the box office receiptsfrom the new MI film, which had the biggest single-day opening in the franchise, public) opinion on Tom Cruise to land, given the twists and turns his reputation has experienced in the past decade or so. But, from the comfort of the movie theater, it's hard to remember just how far back his career goes, so here is a timeline of changing public opinion on Tom Cruise.
1983: Cruise stars in Risky Business, which begins to make him a star. This involves a scene where he dances in his underwear. It's the first time a Cruise performance permeates national consciousness and becomes a lasting symbol, but it will not be the last.
1986: Tom Cruise stars in Top Gun, which definitely makes him a star. He is a major force in Hollywood for nearly two decades following this movie.
1990: Cruise stars in Days of Thunder with Nicole Kidman and the two marry, catapulting himself into the echelon of stars partly notable through their larger-than-life relationship with another star.
1990-2000: Tom Cruise is nominated for three Academy Awards, for Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, and Magnolia. During this time, he mostly takes serious (but dashing) roles where he notably does not operate giant robots or jump off of stuff
1999: Cruise and Kidman star in Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's final film. Two years later, they get divorced -- in part, apparently, because of the pernicious influence of the Church of Scientology.
2001: By now, Tom Cruise is a known quantity, a rugged, all-American action hero. Here's Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman on Mission: Impossible 2:
Cruise, whose aquiline handsomeness grows sleeker each year, has become the most forcefully athletic of our action demigods. He has even learned to rib himself (there's a good running gag at the expense of his gleaming grin), and he acts with his body as much as his face; he holds the screen, from that pressure-drop opening on, with the lean eloquence of his physical alacrity.
2005: Tom Cruise is interviewed by Oprah. The "erratic" behavior he evinces -- the famed jumping on the couch, shaking Oprah, just generally looking a little too excited to be on the talk show -- comes in the early months of his relationship with Katie Holmes and makes him seem practically inhuman, leading the public to connect some dots between his film persona, his media appearances, and Scientology. He is still trying to shake this off.
Over the next several years, his reputation suffers many blows related to his relationship with Katie Holmes and the public's growing awareness of how seemingly nuts Scientology is. This period is best summarized in an excellent L.A. Weekly piece (also cited by Ebiri) that runs through the ways Cruise's spotlessly maintained image crumbled under the weight of the internet.
2008: Tom Cruise has a beautiful cameo in Tropic Thunder. His character, violent studio exec Les Grossman, helps revitalize public opinion, and gets people to say "Hey, Tom Cruise is pretty funny! Maybe he's not so strange after all." (This happens the same year his Mission Impossible-themed Scientology video for the church is leaked.) Over the next several years, his reputation is slowly rehabilitated except that...
2013: People make fun of Edge of Tomorrow before its release because it looks like an insane Tom Cruise vehicle, then admit after seeing it that it's pretty good. The low-key success of the film helps re-cement Cruise as a broadly acceptable, talented star, (Richard Roeper writes that its "unkillable" conceit is a metaphor for Cruise's career) even as the release of Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief makes even more damning accusations about Cruise's role within the cult.
2015: Cruise climbs back atop the box office, just a few months after the release of Going Clear, the Scientology documentary that... does not make him, or other celebrity members of the church (hi, John Travolta), look good. Still, he appears to be back on top -- possibly thanks to a generation of moviegoers that has come of age seeing him primarily as a fun, slightly goofy action hero, rather than the serious actor (and full-on star) was during the first half of his career. Is it easier to give Cruise a pass if he's mostly the dude from the Mission: Impossible movies rather than the consistently Academy Award-nominated star who can get Born on the Fourth of July made?
And here we are. Will Tom Cruise continue to be respected as a great movie star? Will he return to the status of "kind-of crazy guy"? It's hard to say, but Roger Ebert's original review of Cruise in Jerry Maguire from 1996 -- possibly the peak of impeachable Cruise stardom -- might help:
"He plays Maguire with the earnestness of a man who wants to find greatness and happiness in an occupation where only success really counts."