By Megan Bianco
Tom Cruise: the man, the legend. Amazingly, that’s not a stage name, but actually a family name that he made good use of by embarking on a film career in his early 20s.
In the 1980s, Cruise quickly became a household name with hits like Taps (1981), Risky Business (1983), All the Right Moves (1983) and Top Gun (1986). By the 1990s, he expanded his performances with dramas like Rain Man (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), A Few Good Men (1992) and Jerry Maguire (1996).
His public image was aided by relationships with actresses like Rebecca De Mornay, Melissa Gilbert and Heather Locklear before becoming part of Hollywood’s “it couple” with future wife Nicole Kidman throughout the ‘90s. But once Cruise and Kidman divorced, something in Cruise’s career also ended—variety.
My theory—and it’s admittedly not an original one—is that Kidman helped make Cruise the interesting movie star he’s remembered as. The two not only looked ridiculously attractive together, but they made three films together: the fun, popcorn flick Days of Thunder (1990), the flop Far and Away (1992) and the avant-garde Eyes Wide Shut (1999). The latter was the most memorable, and also Stanley Kubrick’s final film.
But I have a feeling that Kidman also inspired him to move beyond his blockbusters and dramas for indie and arthouse productions as well. Movies like Interview with the Vampire (1994), Magnolia (1999), Eyes Wide Shut and Vanilla Sky (2001) seem almost out of place on his resume of action-packed flicks. But the late ‘90s to early ‘00s were a period when studios and A-list stars could consider artsy films almost often as commercial titles. It was reminiscent of the versatile studio films in the 1970s.
This was a time period in which edgy, independent films like Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, Vanilla Sky, Waking Life (1998), Memento (2000) and Mulholland Drive (2001) could get big names and find big followings once released. So for a major movie star to take a pay cut to work with Kubrick or P.T. Anderson wasn’t much of a gamble critically or financially. Especially since Cruise was still making the “Mission: Impossible” television franchise.
And with Kidman, who has had one of the most intriguing careers of her generation, inspiring her husband’s movie choices, Cruise did seem to have the ideal career for a superstar. But once he left Kidman for Katie Holmes, the interviews got weirder, his apparent membership in Scientology got more bizarre and his movie choices became largely safe.
Tropic Thunder (2008) was a rare exception, but War of the Worlds (2005), Rock of Ages (2012), Oblivion (2013) and The Mummy (2017) are a few of the duds that he picked in mid career. If he wants to play it safe and keep doing crazy stunts in action movies rather than show his acting range, then I guess that’s his prerogative.
I’ll just have to continue paying homage with a double-feature of Magnolia and Vanilla Sky every couple of years.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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