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Report: Tom Cruise Either Salvaged What He Could From The Mummy’s Troubled Production Or Made It So Much Worse

The Mummy is…

You know what? Screw The Mummy and its weird, rapey subtext. I’ll get to the movie in a second because Variety has a new report on some behind the scenes issues which apparently wrecked the film as well as allegations about the true size of the budget which means the international market might not be the film’s true savior after all. Let’s talk about Tom Cruise for a second, though. Just how crazy do you think he is?

Out-of-context gifs aside, there’s something incredibly off about him, and there has been for a while. It’s not normal for someone to be that insanely intense sometimes but so impossible-to-stop-laughing other times. It’s not normal for someone of his age and importance to continually risk his life. It’s not normal for someone to seem that nice and unfailingly optimistic all the time yet also impossibly controlling. In those ways and so many others (heck, he’s actually saved people’s lives before), Tom Cruise is not normal.

But he’s not supposed to be. You don’t become the biggest movie star in the world by being normal. There has to be something particularly extraordinary about you, and often times that means you’re a bit eccentric. Sometimes, though, those eccentricities which once seemed endearing reveal themselves to have simply been hiding darker truths the entire time, resulting in fall-from-grace moments like Mel Gibson’s anti-semitic rant, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sex scandals, Jim Carrey’s various bizarre meltdowns and Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping.

As I watched the flaming trainwreck that is The Mummy, a movie which seems tailor made to indulge Cruise’s ego, I kept thinking back to Alex Gibney’s damning documentary Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief.  This is the documentary which chronicles the rise of Scientology in the eyes of those who’ve been lucky to escape the church, and highlights just how much the church’s growth and sustainability has been due to an ongoing leveraging of Tom Cruise’s celebrity, made possible thanks to David Miscaviage’s conversion of Cruise from a largely lapsed Scientologist to full-on kool-aid drinking true believer in the 90s. It is also the documentary no one was allowed to ask Cruise about while he was out promoting Rogue Nation because his PR team and lawyers are very insistent, and after Oprah/Matt Lauer-gate Cruise has almost entirely shied away from discussing Scientology publicly.

So, now he’s just the guy who does all of those logic-defying stunts which put American Ninja Warrior champions to shame, and tours the world doing talk shows which repeatedly produce viral videos of him finding something particularly funny and laughing like he just can’t stop.

But I can’t quite shake the Going Clear image of Cruise as an impossibly deluded maniac. Does the Tom Cruise shown below celebrating his 42nd birthday during a surprise party thrown for him on one of the church’s boats have any idea that everyone there (according to Going Clear) was ordered to smile and call him sir, or that the people responsible for preparing the boat for the party were paid next to nothing (just as they are whenever the church makes them trick out Cruise’s houses and luxury cars)? Moreover, what would be worse: that he knew and didn’t care or had no idea?

Videos like that illustrate what it must be like to be Tom Cruise: everywhere you go everyone seems to love you and shower you with praise, some freely, others under orders, but who cares enough to figure out the difference. If he could be deluded enough to not recognize how hard Miscaviage has been playing him for decades it’s equally likely that when he travels to world premieres in countries like China where he is still treated like the movie star he was in the 90s he’s completely oblivious to how much their adoration of him is dependent on how cut off they were from Hollywood for so long (i.e., after the start of the Korean War the Chinese government blocked all Hollywoood blockbusters from playing in the country until 1994, and still limited the number of imported blockubsters to ten-per-year into the 2000s). He probably thinks everything is fine, and the diminished domestic returns (financially and, with few exceptions, critically) for anything he makes that’s not named Mission Impossible just means he gets to travel more to those areas of the world where everyone loves him.

But everything is not fine, not with The Mummy at least, and Variety reports it might be Cruise’s fault. The juiciest bits follow:

  • Several sources close to the production say that Cruise exerted nearly complete (contractually-permitted) oversight on “The Mummy,” essentially wearing all the hats and dictating even the smallest decisions on the set and even in the film’s marketing and release strategy, advocating for a June debut in a prime summer period.
  • Alex Kurtzman had been in the running to direct the project before Cruise signed on, but the actor gave his blessing for the filmmaker to slide behind the camera. They’d established a comfort level when Kurtzman worked as the screenwriter of “Mission: Impossible III.” But as Kurtzman (who’d only directed one small movie prior to ihis) struggled to adjust to scope of the project, it felt more like Cruise was the real director, often dictating the major action sequences and micro-managing the production, according to sources.

It’s worth remembering that Cruise is one of Hollywood’s most skilled negotiators, becoming legendary in the 90s for securing complete creative control of all projects along with lucrative profit participation contracts which successfully circumvented Hollywood accounting designed to screw stars out of their money. Cruise was so good at it he ended up making more off of the Mission Impossible movies than Paramount, and when Paramount walked away from him following his Scientology meltdown he spent his next couple of years as a studio head of the relaunched United Artists label. That didn’t work out, but ever since then he has been a highly controlling uber-producer on all of his starring vehicles, delivering  them on time and on budget and putting in relentless hours of promotion.

This is partially why Universal’s decision to cast him in The Mummy made no sense. Their goal (to launch a new horror-leaning cinematic universe centering on revived versions of the old movie monsters) and his goal (to make a standard Tom Cruise movie with a barely-there plot stringing together a series of highly choreographed stunts) were always destined to clash. However, if Universal did grant him creative control of the movie than nothing he reportedly did was particularly out of bounds, like:

  • The actor personally commissioned two other writers along with Christopher McQuarrie to crank out a new script. Two of the film’s three credited screenwriters, McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, an actor-writer who played small roles in “The Mummy” and “Jack Reacher,” were close allies of Cruise’s. The script envisioned Nick Morton as an earnest Tom Cruise archetype, who is laughably described as a “young man” at one point [Might I add that he is in his 50s and his two female co-stars were either not born or not even a year-old yet when Risky Business came out].
  • His writers beefed up his part. In the original script, Morton and the Mummy (played by Sofia Boutella) had nearly equal screen time. The writers also added a twist that saw Cruise’s character become possessed, to give him more of a dramatic arc.

To be fair, Cruise’s recent run of films indicate he recognizes the importance of strong leading ladies, but he never can seem to completely share the spotlight, even though his female co-stars keep outshining him (e.g., Rogue Nation, Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher 2…even Boutella in The Mummy).

  • Once the film was done, Cruise brought in his longtime editor Andrew Mondshein to piece together the final picture. (The film’s credits also list Gina and Paul Hirsch as editors.) He spent time in the editing suite overseeing the cutting, which everybody agreed wasn’t working. On the lot, there were differences of opinions about whether Cruise’s directions were improving a picture that had been troubled from its inception or whether they were turning a horror film into a Cruise infomercial.

This time Cruise failed to bring his product in on budget. Universal is reporting a final budget of $125m but Variety hears it’s more like $190m with another $100m in marketing. In that context, The Mummy’s $174m-worldwide debut might not be good enough to save Universal from ultimately taking a loss, not if the toxic word of mouth spreads.

Variety‘s sources might be wrong. Even if they’re right, Cruise doesn’t have to be the bad guy here. The decisions he made as part of his overhaul of The Mummy reflect poorly on him and his ongoing mid-life crisis, and speak to a man so surrounded by those who idolize and/or are so financially dependent on him that no one will tell him no. However, Universal gave him creative control, and the director wasn’t cutting it. Cruise may have made some bad calls, but he stepped up to make the sure the movie got made, micro-managing it into meat and potatoes Tom Cruise movie, for better or worse, even though Alex Kurtzman had een going for a legitimate horror movie vibe.

What we witnessed is the unfortuate meeting of old Hollywood and new. Cruise ran this thing like he was still top gun, and Universal let him because they didn’t truly believe in their concept of a bullshit cinematic universe attempting to mold old movie monsters into de factor superheroes and villains. However, if they had a better idea of what they were actually doing they never would have cast Cruise in the first place because big movie stars with considerable leverage (the type that demand creative control in all things and mold everything to their liking) and cinematic universes (the type that need a central braintrust of producers and writers steering the ship) don’t mix. You can’t really blame Tom Cruise for trying to make a Tom Cruise movie. You should really blame yourelf for clearly having no idea what kind of movie you actually wanted other than “one that makes a lot of money like those Marvel movies.”

Sources: Variety


  1. A couple of weeks ago you wrote and questioned when Johnny Depp would lose his bankability. I started to write a response that would include Tom Cruise then got distracted and it’s still one of my opened tabs on my mobile phone browser.

    I think that a substantial fraction of people will always keep seeing Depp and Cruise movies regardless of their personal offscreen failings. I think it would take nothing short of a sexual assault (excluding verbal-consensual statutory rape) or murder conviction to make people stop. Although in different industries, Michael Vick and Chris Brown continued their careers after their convictions. Respectively, their behaviour should have significantly upset two large demographics: animal lovers and females. Even more disturbing and irrational are the Chris Brown fans who say he can beat them anyday.

    I wonder why Tom Cruise doesn’t become an actor/director if he is so keen on micromanaging so many simultaneous roles.

    1. I can relate to starting a comment and then getting distracted. Been there.

      Prior to writing this article I actually went back and re-read something I wrote about Tom Cruise in 2015, and at that time nearly half of all polled moviegoers indicated they went to see Rogue Nation on opening weekend just to see Tom Cruise.

      And that’s the way this used to work. Movie stars commanded large salaries, perks and creative control over everything they did, and they dominated the entertainment media landscape. Whenever they released a new movie they were guaranteed X number of people would see it just because they were in it, and that formula usually played into budget and marketing decisions. To a certain degree, that’s still true since as you accurately observed “a substantial fraction of people will always keep seeing Depp and Cruise movies regardless of their personal offscreen failings.” However, the domestic numbers aren’t there like they used to be, and whenever these people go off brand (like Depp in The Rum Diaries) it doesn’t tend to work well for them. That’s why Tom Cruise so rarely, rarely ever steps outside of a standard Tom Cruise movie anymore. That amazing actor we last glimpsed in Magnolia has no financial incentive to challenge himself like that anymore because it would be the equivalent of flushing money down a toilet, and there really is no one as good as him at insane practical stunts these days so why stop.

      What we are witnessing is the last gasp of the movie star system which exploded in the 80s and 90s. Every single one of them has fallen away, retreated into semi-retirement (Julia Roberts, Demi Moore), only just now getting out of movie jail (Mel Gibson), bordering on direct-to-video fare geared toward the international market (Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger), retreated from diminishing domestic returns to sizable guaranteed salaries at Netflix (Adam Sandler, Will Smith) or elsewhere (Jean Claude Van-Damme at Amazon) or moved into producing (Jim Carrey with Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here).

      Really, Tom Cruise is it. He’s the last one. Jonny Depp can’t carry a movie anymore unless it’s Pirates, but Cruise’s name along can still put plenty of butts in seats. I’m sure if a similar Rogue Nation poll was conducted for The Mummy half of the people would probably say they were just there to see Tom Cruise, and because the international market is made up of a bunch of countries with restrictive governments who choked off Hollywood’s access to their people for so long these movie stars are still treated like gods over there. Even so, it’s only if the stars stay on brand. International markets aren’t saving movies like Transcendence, The Water Diviner, The Rum Diaries, Rock of Ages, Maggie, etc.

      And on top of all those industry trends which are completely out of the actors’ control you add on Cruise’s long line of Scientology embarassments/controversies. It’s enough to make his continued stardom all the more impressive. There’s a high likelihood that if his next movie, American Made, gets good reviews it will probably make decent money. By comparison, The Mummy had poor trailers, and toxic word of mouth.

      “I wonder why Tom Cruise doesn’t become an actor/director if he is so keen on micromanaging so many simultaneous roles.”

      Same here. Why bother with the pretense anymore? Why not just be more honest and call it like it is and say that Mission Impossible 6 is not being directed by Christopher McQuarrie but instead co-directed by Cruise and McQuarrie? However, it might be that Cruise’s intense dedication to doing everything 110% is such that if he were to officially direct a movie he might not be able to focus on acting because he’d be so preoccupied with indulging his perfectionism from behind the camera.

      1. I think I would want to watch “American Made”… if it didn’t have Tom Cruise in it. Admittedly, part of that is because the trailer depicts him having a bikini-clad significantly younger wife.

        In some ways, I am perplexed by the death of the “movie star”. Why can’t Will Smith sacrifice his nepotism and go back to being that charismatic comedy star? Why haven’t I seen a Jack Black film since “Nacho Libre”? Why are they giving scripts as bad as “Terminator: Genisys” to Schwarzenneger? And we know why Jai Courtney isn’t replacing the aging action star population.

      2. The answer is simple. Superstars get greedy. Want big pay cheques and with the rise of interent we the audience read more about their egos and diva ways. Ask Chris Tucker how much for Rush Hour 4 or Jim Carey how muchfor Ace Ventura 3? They want shed loads and various other asks. Thankfully cinema is kindly turning away from that behaviour and looking for fresh talent and that is a good thing. Cruise himself wants absolute power over all his films so the same fate awates him. Actors need to turn up and do their job and nothing more.

      3. “Admittedly, part of that is because the trailer depicts him having a bikini-clad significantly younger wife.”

        Same here. The sad thing is she would probably be around age-appropriate if they’d cast someone ten years younger to play Cruise’s part, which would have been more accurate since the guy he’s playing was in his early 40s, not 50s, when all of this actually happened.

        As for the movie star, well Dex got it right – the death of the movie star is partially the result of an ongoing labor dispute. The stars got greedy and the salaries kept rising to previously unimaginable levels. Box office miss after miss soured the studios, yet did nothing to dissuade the stars from demanding their $10m-$30m fee for their next movie (the exact fee depended on the star, of course). So, it just made sense to hire cheaper talent. That goes for directors as well.

        The 90s were a boom time for Hollywood (and the entire country), but as the rules gradually changed into the 2000s and Marvel Studios came along in 2008 established actors and directors found themselves increasingly pushed aside for people who would work cheaper.

        What prolonged the life of the movie star a little longer was the strong home video market overseas where a producer could pre-sell distribution rights for a movie to foreign companies for a handsome fee as long as a movie star was attached. In fact, those pre-sells would often fund the movie and even pay the star’s salary. But that, too, has fallen away, and the world seemed to generally tire of these overpaid movie stars making mostly medicore or flat out bad movies (looking at you, Affleck).

        So, the demand for the movie star is gone. That’s why movie stars increasingly turn to TV because that’s where the demand is, and the amount of money being thrown at them is insane since the cable companies and streamers have capital coming out of their ears.

      4. In fairness 1) some movie stars can elevate a film on their screen charisma alone so can see why they demand big money. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, heck even Will Ferrell can get some laughs out of his dire choice movies. Some can’t (see Orlando Bloom and other Rings stars or Cuba Gooding jnr). 2) Tom cruise looks fantastic for his age and looks nowhere near 50s in age. I can only hope I look like that at 50 but given I don’t even look like as good as him now its highly doubtful. Anyway where was I going with this? Oh yeah I would go see a film with Michael Caine and Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman in it.

      1. your welcome. nd yes the QL conversation was getting a bit nerdy and that Greg White is a bit odd.

  2. Agree with you.
    I heard he has became the follower of Hinduism.
    I donno if that’s true.
    But agree with the fact that they have to be different for the sake of their profession.

    1. In the interest of fairness, literally hours after I published this Vulture ran a list of 19 unsettlingly nice Tom Cruise stories, some of which I already knew, some I didn’t. Basically, there are no shortage of stories in which Cruise comes off like an incredibly stand-up guy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to be a good person, to be nice to people, save those in peril, kick in money to pay for someone’s medical expenses, maintain an mentor/uncle-like relationship to young co-stars, etc. It’s another reason why people are more inclined to just ignore his Scientology troubles.

      Hadn’t heard about Hinduism, though. Also dunno if it’s true.

  3. Really enjoyed this, I like a unique voice when it comes to film and above all an un-lovey-hollywoody voice.
    Always been something off about him, but yet he’s been around for donkey’s.
    It’s also nice to read a post that isn’t about kids and/or the secret meaning of life. I’m guilty of both 😂
    I. am. following.
    All the best

  4. I don’t watch Tom Cruise movies, he’s too slick by half. I’m picking up what you’re saying, Kelly but don’t understand why you’re so angry. I thought I was going to read a review but you seem to have spent an equal amount of time criticizing both Cruise and The Mummy.
    Regarding ‘Mel Gibson’s anti-semitic rant, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sex scandals, Jim Carrey’s various bizarre meltdowns.’ They seem to have dusted themselves off and got back on their respective perches. Cruise’s behavior seems mild in comparison to theirs.

    1. Sorry for any confusion. I did actually review the movie ( I always put the word “review” in all of my film reviews just to make it more clear. This particular article you’re responding to was more of an editorial reacting to Variety’s report of the drama surrounding the production of the film. The anger I expressed is connected to the many ways I found the film to be especially annoying, which I explained more in the review as well as in a seperate article about the film’s box office performance. I supposed I forgot when writing this particular article that not everyone would have read the prior two.

      I wouldn’t completely agree that Gibson, Schwarzenegger and Carrey have all truly recovered. They’re not back to where they used to be in terms of the type of movies they’re making or salaries they’re demanding. They’ve been victimized by the death of the movie star system just like everyone else. However, they ARE all still working, even if just behind the scenes for Carrey, and have earned back some good will.

      Cruise is different not so much in a comparison of his perceived sins versus their’s but more in that his career comeback has been more successful. He had a lull there for a while, but once he made us laugh again (in Tropic Thunder) and turned into a movie stunt Evel Knievel his movies continued to be big global draws. That’s why Universal wanted him for The Mummy, but it didn’t work out and introduced the question of at what point does all of this (him always with female co-stars decades younger than him, always incapable of handing off franchises to younger actors, generally behaving like he’s still in his 30s or early 40s) start to look just a little sad considering his age. His next movie, American Made, is at least a little off brand for him because he’s playing a real historical figure, speaking in a Southern accent, and taking his stab at a more action-packed version of Blow, Goodfellas or The Infiltrator.

      But again the person he’s playing was 10 years younger than him during the events depicted in the movie, and the actress playing his wife is 21 years younger than him. Cruise looks good enough and is so preternaturally talented at choreographing stunts that he might be able to keep this up for a while longer, but when movies like The Mummy cast him as an Raiders of the Lost Ark-era Indiana Jone type even though he looks more like a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-era Indiana Jones and feature a plot in which a gorgeous, younger-looking woman is chasing him across to have her with his body it starts to look a little embarassing.

  5. Tom Cruise is off….really off…and not in a good way. The facade is in the facial expressions, forced smiles and laughs but controlling gaze. Most of his co-workers say he is really nice but I usually think there is no way they would say what they really think in public so who is fooling who? I wasn’t planning on watching THE MUMMY anyway it looked like Mission Impossible with a Mummy in it…No Thanks!

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