Tom Cruise is our latest movie star

Special for Infobae of The New York Times.

The helicopter was painted with the name of the star and the letters were more clearly visible when it landed on the retired aircraft carrier, which was adorned for the occasion with a sprawling red carpet and a group of fighter jets. Tom Cruise. Top Gun. Maverick.

It couldn’t be another.

Dressed in a skintight suit, his hair a little messier and his face a few more pockmarked than when he first played Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell more than three decades ago, Cruise took the USS Midway stage as the sound played in the background. Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic theme song.

Pointing to the spectacle around him, including the throngs of fans and members of the media, Cruise said, “This moment where I see everyone without a mask is so epic.”

It also felt like a time capsule. The three-hour promotional event — which included a group of F-18 fighter jets performing a flyby to the tune of a Lady Gaga song recorded especially for the film — harkened back to the halcyon days of Hollywood glamour. Days when Disney didn’t think twice about ferrying an aircraft carrier from San Diego to Hawaii for Michael Bay’s 2001 premiere of “Pearl Harbor.” Or when the same studio built a 500-seat theater in Downtown Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the premiere of “Armageddon.” That kind of extravagance seems almost unthinkable today, when the streaming algorithm and accompanying digital marketing efforts have replaced the old-fashioned all-star publicity tour around the world and studios spend millions to convert film premieres at cultural events.

Movie megastars are in charge of carrying out these events. In Hollywood, stardom has an elastic definition. There are screen legends who are not box office stars. A global movie star is someone whose name is the main attraction. They have a broad appeal that transcends language, international borders, and generational differences. Simply put, they can bring people of all ages to movie theaters around the world by virtue of their image on the screen.

They’re the kind of stars — like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone — that blockbusters have been built around for decades.

And they are the kind of stars that don’t really exist anymore. Actors like Dwayne Johnson, Zendaya, Tom Holland, Ryan Reynolds, and Chris Pratt are ultra-successful, but they’re also closely tied to a specific franchise, superhero movie, or have yet to demonstrate that multi-generational appeal.

Now, what counts are the characters. Three actors have played Spider-Man and six have donned the Batman cowl on the big screen. The public has flocked to all of them. The Avengers may come together with big box office receipts, but what difference does it make who wears the costume?

Yet there is Cruise, moving forward as if the world hasn’t changed at all. For him, in many ways, he hasn’t. He was 24 years old when “Top Gun: The Passion and Glory” made him box office royalty, and he has stayed there ever since, beating out his contemporaries. He is the last world star still making movies only for the cinemas. He hasn’t ventured into streaming services. He has not signed a contract for a limited series. He has not created his own brand of tequila.

Instead, his promotional tour for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which opens May 27, will last about three weeks and stretch from Mexico City to Japan, with a stop in Cannes for the annual film festival. In London, she walked the red carpet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (The tour would have been longer and more extensive if COVID protocols weren’t making things so complicated and if I wasn’t in the middle of completing two “Mission: Impossible” movies.)

The actor is still paid first dollar in the box office, which means that, in addition to a hefty upfront commission, he receives a percentage of the box office takings from the moment the film hits theaters. He is one of the last Hollywood stars to get such a sweet deal, thanks to his 44 films having grossed $4.4 billion at the box office in the United States and Canada alone, according to Box Office Mojo. (Most stars today are paid an up-front salary, with bonuses if the movie makes certain amounts at the box office.) So if his movies are successful, Cruise makes money. And right now, Hollywood is in dire need of a hit.

Audiences have begun to return to theaters since the pandemic shut them down in 2020. Box office analyst David Gross said major Hollywood studios were expected to release roughly 108 films in theaters this year, a 22 percent drop from compared to 2019. Total box office numbers for the year are still down 40 percent, but recent performances by “Batman” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” have theater owners optimistic that the audience demand is still there. The question is whether the business is still going strong for more than special-effects-heavy superhero movies.

“Movies like this don’t get made anymore,” Brian Robbins, the new CEO of Paramount Pictures, the studio that financed and produced “Top Gun: Maverick,” said in an interview. “This is not a big visual effects movie. Tom actually trained these actors to be able to fly and perform in real F-18s. Virtually no one has ever done what they’ve done in this movie. It has scale and scope and it’s also a really emotional movie. That’s not what we usually see in high-end movies these days.”

A big box office success for “Top Gun: Maverick” will largely depend on audiences over the age of 40. They are the viewers who most fondly remember the original “Top Gun” from 36 years ago and they are the ones who have been most reluctant to return to theaters.

Now, movie theater owners across the country are crossing their fingers that Cruise’s million-watt smile and commitment to doing his own stunts — no matter the cost or the fact that he turns 60 in July — bring viewers back to theaters for what they hope will be a long and fruitful summer.

“There have been a lot of questions about older audiences and their affinity to return to the movie experience,” Rolando Rodriguez, CEO of Wisconsin-based Marcus Theatres, the nation’s fourth-largest theater chain, said in an interview. “‘Top Gun’ is definitely going to appeal to audiences 40 and older and the momentum is building.”

Audiences have remained loyal to Cruise despite his off-screen controversies: his connection to Scientology, the infamous couch-hopping interview on “Oprah,” his failed marriages, even to the actress. Kate Holmes. And he, for his part, has stayed focused on the process of making movies and then promoting them to as many people as possible, often through tightly controlled public appearances where he’s unlikely to face any uncomfortable questions about his personal life that might embarrass him or alienate moviegoers.

“Eat, sleep and dream about this job,” said Wyck Godfrey, former president of production at Paramount. “There is nothing else that takes away the attention. He surpasses all others. He knows every detail.”

The question now, in the world of streaming and superhero intellectual property, is this: does it still matter?

‘We don’t create movie stars anymore’

Cruise came of age in Hollywood in the shadow of movie stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, when the name of the star mattered more than the title of the movie. Go to the movies to see Schwarzenegger play a murderous “cyborg”? Sure. How about a policeman who is forced to play with children in kindergarten? Of course. And a twin separated at birth to an unlikely Danny DeVito? Why not? In those days, gender didn’t matter. Spectators flocked to movie theaters to see the actors.

Today it is not like that.

“We don’t create movie stars anymore,” Godfrey said, adding that studios have been reducing their marketing and advertising commitments for years. “As a result, there are fewer and fewer significant names to help launch a movie.”

Robbins agreed that it’s much more difficult today to become a world star at Cruise’s level, not because of studio commitments, but because of the state of the industry.

“It’s Batman. He is Spider-Man. He is very different”, he commented in an interview from Cannes. “And it’s not just because a lot of these characters are hidden by a mask, tights and cape. He is a very different kind of cinema. And the world is different because of streaming and all the other content; the fight for attention is much fiercer than ever. 36 years ago, when “Top Gun: The Passion and Glory” premiered, there was no streaming, there were no cell phones. There was no Internet. We went to the movies to entertain ourselves. Now there are many options.”

Some will say that the era of movie stars died when the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over pop culture and movies based on well-known intellectual property seemed to be the only way to get large numbers of people into theaters. . Cruise has not been immune to these changes.

Over the past decade, Cruise has starred in such original titles as “Barry Seal: Only in America,” “Oblivion: The Time Forgotten” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” all films that showcased his experience in the action genre. None was successful. His reimagining of “The Mummy,” which was supposed to kick-start Universal Pictures’ monster movie series, was a disappointment for the studio, grossing only $80 million in domestic revenue. The series never took off.

However, even if he is not involved in any superhero franchise, Cruise has managed to capitalize on the intellectual property that he has already successfully exploited. Roles like homicide investigator Jack Reacher and secret agent Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible” have done well at the box office. He hopes to do it again with “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“I think there’s so much supply in the world right now with the amount of content being produced that every movie has become an obvious target film,” said David Ellison, CEO of Skydance, the production company of “Top Gun.” : Maverick” and other movies with Cruise. “The opportunity for something to work and be anything less than excellent is just not the market we live in.”

Glen Powell, one of Cruise’s co-stars on “Top Gun: Maverick,” cites it as one of the reasons he kept acting. Cruise is also the reason Powell appears in the film. Powell initially auditioned for the role of Rooster, the son of Maverick’s old sidekick Goose, a role he went to Miles Teller. Disappointed when he was offered the role of the brash Hangman, Powell accepted the role after Cruise gave him some advice: don’t pick the best parts, pick the best movies, and play the parts to the best of your ability.

“I will never forget that moment,” Powell said in an interview. “He asked me, ‘What kind of career do you want?’ And I told him: ‘I’m trying to be like you’”.

He knows that he has learned from the master. “Even if I pick up a little bit of what Tom taught me,” he said, “I’m going to be a lot more prepared than any other actor.”

Can be. Or you may be learning from an outdated playbook.

There is a moment in “Top Gun: Maverick” where Ed Harris, playing Maverick’s superior, tells him, “The end is inevitable. Your species is headed for extinction.”

And Cruise, still maintaining that unabashed self-confidence that made him a movie star four decades ago, smiles at him and replies, “Maybe yes, sir. But not today”.

There are many people in the film industry who hope that he is right.

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