CRUISE/PARAMOUNT SPLIT: Personal vs. Professional

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Here at RopeofSilicon, like all movie and entertainment related outlets, we critique actors, actresses, directors and their respective movies and television shows. This is our job and we do it to entertain and inform. We refrain from mean-spirited comments but we do have our opinions and any form of art is open to criticism, that is what it is out there for, to be loved or hated. Either way it spawns conversation and peaks our interest one way or another.

So, when Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone goes out publicly and takes some far too personal jabs at Tom Cruise as Paramount Pictures and Cruise’s Cruise/Wagner Productions part ways I have to wonder if this is a good business decision on Redstone’s part.

THE MOVIES

Let’s see here, a quick trip over to BoxOfficeMojo tells us that in Tom Cruise’s lifetime the films he has starred in have grossed $2,696,812,650. Yeah, that is a lot of money, and that is only domestically and if you average that out it comes to $99,881,950 per film. That second number takes into consideration 15 movies that didn’t gross over $100 million, movies such as Legend, All the Right Moves, Risky Business and even a little 1983 flick called Losin’ It, which I am sure several of you have never heard of (me included) and only made $1.2 million. Those things considered he still averages just shy of $100 million per film. Cruise’s last 10 films averaged $126 million dollars. As for the films Cruise made for Paramount specifically, from Top Gun in 1986 to Mission: Impossible III in 2006 he has averaged $160 million domestically with only Days of Thunder being the only movie he made for the studio that did not reach the $100 million plateau ($86 million).

So, why would the 83-year-old Redstone say, “…we (Paramount Pictures/Viacom Inc.) don’t think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot”?

Costs the company revenue? The 2005 remake of War of the Worlds, which starred Cruise made $234 million domestically for Paramount, which is $102 million over its reported production budget and does not include home video sales or the $357 million the film made in foreign markets. So, I think it is safe to say Paramount didn’t lose any revenue on that one, and War of the Worlds was released after Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch and criticized Brooke Shields and the entire pharmaceutical drug taking public. Redstone referred to the Winfrey incident saying, “He had never behaved this way before, he really went over the top.” I guess the effect of that appearance just didn’t hit yet.

Redstone’s primary beef was obviously directed at the latest Paramount release of Mission: Impossible III a film Redstone agrees “was the best of the three movies” in the series, but the $133 million domestic box-office take was far below what Paramount expected. Not to mention it was $82 million less than M:I II and $47 million less than the original. Considering the budget on the film was reported to be $150 million I would say we could look at it as a failure in those terms. However Paramount has already begun pushing the fact that M:I III will be getting a major marketing push for home video as it will be released on DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc this October. You have to assume the studio is going to pull in some money on that front. I also have to wonder if one “failure” warrants the break-up of a partnership.

I guess continuing to make money off of Cruise’s work is acceptable, however Redstone feels, “[Cruise’s] recent conduct has not been acceptable…”

THE PRODUCTION DEAL

Before we throw any stones in any direction (or at all) it is a good idea to do our best to look at all facets of the story and the next thing would be the deal Cruise/Wagner and Paramount had. The Wall Street Journal tells us that the deal between the studio and Cruise in recent years paid Cruise/Wagner up to $10 million a year to develop films and operate an office on the Paramount lot. The Journal also offers up a comparison to Brad Pitt’s production company (Plan B) and the studio saying Plan B gets about $2 million plus a $500,000 discretionary fund each year, according to people familiar with the situation. Eight million dollars is quite a difference, but when we are talking about $150 production budgets and $47-64 million opening weekends it all seems a bit secondary.

THE SPLIT

Rumors had been flying everywhere and it looked from the outset that the deal between the studio and Cruise’s production company would not be renewed. Redstone insists this is due to Cruise’s behavior. Paula Wagner, Cruise’s production partner, insists they weren’t even going to renew and that negotiations had already ceased prior to yesterday’s announcement. In fact she told the WSJ that the production company had decided to set up an independent operation financed by two top hedge funds, a move Wagner says, “…is a dream of Tom and mine.”

A reaction from a source close to the studio was quoted saying, “Whatever.” I love that quote, had to throw it in there.

So, what was it? Paramount slapped Cruise for bad behavior and got rid of him? Or, Cruise/Wagner said, “You can’t fire us! We quit!”

Your guess is as good as mine.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Based on Redstone’s comments I lean more toward the Cruise-camp. That said, I am not here to entirely disagree with Redstone. I do think Cruise pushed the boundaries of self expression with his comments and antics over the past two years. However, Redstone should have saved his comments for conversations behind closed doors. Redstone is a high-powered business executive and to attack Cruise in this manner shows no class and reeks of a man that obviously has problems with Cruise beyond just business.

I can’t help but wonder if Tom Cruise had been pushing Christianity instead of Scientology would he be under such scrutiny? Personally I think Cruise’s belief in Scientology is crazy, but since I am not Tom Cruise it doesn’t really matter. It isn’t as if he is worshiping the Devil and sacrificing goats and drinking their blood. He is not harming the public either, so why all the nasty comments? At this point I am not directing my question and Redstone alone, everyone seems to want to take shots at Cruise, and seem anxious to see him fall. Why?

ANSWER: People love to see a star fall.

Unfortunately for those people I don’t think Cruise’s star has fallen as far as they would like you to believe. If Mel Gibson can go out an insult an entire nation, go into rehab and deliver an unbelievable apology and come out cleaner than Cruise is ludicrous. Gibson spouted hatred, Cruise just has a different “religious” belief than others and fell in love with Katie Holmes. What’s wrong with that?

All that aside I have to wonder if Redstone’s comments and the Paramount/Cruise split are smart business decisions. I don’t have to wonder for too long though, this is not a great idea.

In the Wall Street Journal article Cruise’s agent, Rick Nicita of Creative Artists Agency, said Mr. Cruise was “offended” upon learning of Mr. Redstone’s comments. “This was done in an incredibly graceless way,” he said. I agree with that.

In an article on TIME.com today Jerry Bruckheimer said, “I’d love to make as many films with him as I can. First of all, Tom gives you big openings no matter what, which is what it’s all about. You always have to be careful about what you do, no matter what profession you’re in. But I don’t think Tom has done anything that would change people’s movie-going habits if he’s got the right material because he’s a brilliant actor.”

Another quote in the same article from an unnamed insider said, “As a movie studio, your business is to attract filmmakers and artists… Why would you say something about an important movie star when it could make his friends and colleagues [think twice] about working at a place that attacks artists?”

I do think Cruise’s public image has been damaged, but not entirely. Cruise makes great decisions in the way of movies he picks to star in. His last seven films grossed over $100 million at the domestic box-office and he will continue to crank out hits. I for one am ready to see his next one, whatever it may be.

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Weekend: Sep. 20, 2018, Sep. 23, 2018

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