This weekend “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” handily scored the number one spot at the box office, becoming the umpteenth hit of Tom Cruise’s four decade career. Few have stayed on top for so long, and few have had to battle the same excess of scandals. Over the last decade the biggest movie star in the world has had to deal with bad press over Scientology, over claims he was in the closet, over his controversial remarks over psychology, over his marriages and, perhaps most of all, over his penchant for couch-jumping antics.
The last one is the only one you can definitively say is bull. As detailed in a piece by the critic Amy Nicholson, the flack over his notorious appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2005 — in which he appeared to spontaneously leap onto her couch in adoration of then-new boo Katie Holmes — may have caused the public to turn on him, perceiving him as a crazy worthy of scorn. But it was also a media construct — a case where the Internet got something seriously wrong, and the lie became remembered as truth.
As Nicholson argues, the incident was a product of coming in the infancy of YouTube and the short, endlessly re-playable clip. It was, in fact, taken out of context. The big couch-pouncing bit came well into the episode, after Cruise had been endlessly goaded, by Winfrey and by her ecstatic, howling audience, to really, really, really profess his love for his girl. The frenzy became such that he had no choice but to finally get into it — as it were, really into it. But the only moment most people saw was the part where he jumped, which thus seemed to be the behavior of a guy everyone already thought was sort of nuts, a conception that then seemed to be confirmed. And the myth stayed.
It seemed Cruise’s career was doomed. Indeed, it was the underperformance of the third “Mission: Impossible” — really only a slight underperformance, as it still grossed almost half a billion dollars worldwide — that suggested the Internet, as Nicholson put it, had destroyed the world’s last old school movie star. His films since then haven’t had the same golden hue, box office-wise, as in his heyday. He became an odd kind of critical darling. Last year critics were put in the awkward position of saying this clever, exciting, deeply entertaining Tom Cruise action movie — “Edge of Tomorrow,” since then sort-of-not-really renamed “Live. Die. Repeat.” — was something audiences should go see in droves, just as they would have pre-“Oprah” controversy.
The fifth “Mission: Impossible” didn’t do mega-blockbuster business. It “only” grossed $56 million domestically and $121 worldwide, which is a little more than half of what “Guardians of the Galaxy” stole at this time last year. But it’s better than the series’ fourth, “Ghost Protocol,” which had an unusual release pattern, being issued in IMAX only in its first weekend and building its cash cow slowly, eventually raking up close to $700 million. That is to say, people kept seeing it because they liked it, not because they were told to show up for a killer opening weekend.
But again, “Rogue Nation”’s good reviews and strong word of mouth — an A- Cinemascore rating, an uptick in tickets on Saturday from Friday — imply people might have finally gotten over Cruise’s personal life and embraced the idea that he’s a mega-entertainer who will literally almost kill himself to entertain. He’s even threatening to leave Scientology — though he’s yet to backtrack on his truly ignorant and harmful anti-psychology line.
In other box office news, “Vacation” — a revival, not reboot, of the old Chevy Chase-led series — bombed with $14.9 million over the weekend, and only $21 million since its Wednesday bow. Meanwhile, “Ant-Man,” the literally little Marvel movie that could, hit $132.1 million domestically, which is nowhere near the grosses of the studio’s other titles but definitely respectable and a better outcome than those who were predicting it would be the comic overlord’s first bomb.