Does Cruise Still Control the Box Office?

Tom Cruise faces the camera in a scene from 'MI3'

Tom Cruise in a scene from his latest film, 'Mission Impossible III.' Paramount Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise's films have grossed more than $5 billion worldwide. But is he overexposed? Surely you've heard of the baby and his odd antics on Oprah's couch. How will such publicity affect Friday's opening of Mission Impossible III?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The film Mission Impossible 3 opens today, and Hollywood will be watching its box office numbers closely. Many in the industry hope the film can help power the movie business out of a slump. They're also wondering how the star of the film will fare.

Tom Cruise is arguably the most bankable movie star in the world. His films have grossed more than $5 billion worldwide in theaters alone. The question is whether his recent behavior has hurt him with his fans. NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS reporting:

There's nothing new about sequels in the summer, but this time there's a wrinkle. Even industry veterans cannot remember when a huge star like Cruise transformed himself into the butt of many national jokes.

(Soundbite of television program "South Park")

Mr. TREY PARKER (Actor): (As Stan Marsh) Dad, Tom Cruise won't come out of the closet.

(As Randy Marsh) What?

(As Stan Marsh) Tom Cruise locked himself in my closet and he won't come out.

MASTERS: That episode of South Park made news when it aired in November, and again in March when Comedy Central pulled a rerun of the show. Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, as is Paramount Pictures, the studio releasing M:I:3, so the South Park cancellation prompted a flurry of reports that Cruise had balked at promoting his movie, unless the show was cancelled. He's denied that, but Paramount did start, and then stop running M:I:3 ads on that channel.

It's been more than a year since Cruise's behavior started to become an issue. Last spring he went very public with his support for the Church of Scientology, tangling with Matt Lauer on the Today show over one of the group's central ideas.

(Soundbite of television program "The Today Show")

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): Psychiatry is a pseudo-science.

Mr. MATT LAUER (Host, The Today Show): But aren't there examples where it works?

Mr. CRUISE: Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, you don't even -- you're glib.

MASTERS: Then there was his romance with actress Katie Holmes, and a memorable television moment when he proclaimed his love while bouncing on Oprah Winfrey's couch. That appearance is spoofed in the recent hit Scary Movie 4.

(Soundbite of movie "Scary Movie 4")

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of audience applause)

Unidentified Speaker #1: I love Cindy Campbell(ph). I could jump on things. Whoa!

(Soundbite of person falling on ground)

Unidentified Speaker #2: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Speaker #1: Wow-e, wow-e, wow-e, wow-e...

Unidentified Speaker #2: Tom Ryan is insane!

Unidentified Speaker #1: I'm insane.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

MASTERS: Even Parade Magazine, hardly a tabloid, got snarky in a profile last month. The article mentioned that Cruise's girlfriend seemed dazed, passive and vacant, with Cruise kissing her like a teenage boy aware that he was being watched.

Mr. TOM SHERRICK (Marketing Analyst): Gossip stuff is gossip stuff.

MASTERS: Tom Sherrick is a veteran marketer who's worked on films from Star Wars to Rent. He says a star of Cruise's magnitude--and there aren't many--would have to break a very serious social taboo to alienate his audience, at least when he plays such an established role. Sherrick predicts M:I:III will draw crowds, despite all the chatter.

Mr. SHERRICK: We read it. I read it. I love to read it. Oh, what happened with Katie, today? Is it true? Who knows if it's true? I read it. I laugh at it. But, that -- you know something? I'm online, wanting to see Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3.

MASTERS: It's impossible to quantify whether Cruise has alienated some fans, though industry research shows that interest in the film is unexpectedly weak among women. And sources close to Steven Spielberg say the director felt Cruise's behavior may have hurt last summer's War of the Worlds. Still, that was Cruise's biggest hit ever, grossing more than $590 million worldwide. So how big will Mission Impossible 3 have to open to prove that Cruise still has it? Paul Dergarabedian is a box office tracker with Exhibitor Relations.

Mr. PAUL DERGARABEDIAN (President, Exhibitor Relations Company): It would have to do at least $58 million to be in the ballpark of being considered successful, because then it would have done better business, opening weekend, than the prior two films.

MASTERS: Dergarabedian predicts that M:I:3 will pass $58 million. That may seem like a lot, but it's nowhere near a record for a non holiday weekend. That belongs to the first Spiderman, which opened in May 2002, to nearly $115 million.

Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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