“The interest in this guy is quite astonishing. Let me tell you something about the Oscars this past year. Around 20 minutes before the Oscar show started, you have all these people out in front of the auditorium there. Everyone had gotten in… except for one person, and I saw the press and the fans held captive waiting for one guy to come. They waited 10 minutes. It was dead quiet. No one came down the red carpet. It was dead quiet. All waiting for [Tom] Cruise. I haven’t seen that kind of star appeal [since]… well, I haven’t seen it. Period!”
That was the late Gene Siskel — of Siskel & Ebert fame — giving his own first-hand account of the phenomenon that was — and still is — Tom Cruise on The Oprah Winfrey Show way back in June 1990.
For better or worse, much has been written about Cruise; there are those who admire his superhuman commitment to global promotion, and those who judge him for his faith as a Scientologist and his failed marriages to actresses Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman, and Katie Holmes. And yet, no matter how people feel about Cruise, it’s hard to dispute that he’s Hollywood’s single greatest movie star — and not just of our time, but of all time.
Cruise’s ascension to movie stardom remains the gold standard for which all leading men and women should strive toward. Ever since sliding across the screen in those Ray-Ban shades and tighty-whities and dancing his heart out to “Old Time Rock & Roll” in Risky Business, Cruise has remained an ever-present figure in pop culture. Always cool, always rocking those shades, always with that $25 million-dollar smile that comes with points on the backend.
While most of Cruise’s ’80s contemporaries have either transitioned from leading men into supporting roles as fathers — or even grandfathers — or disappeared from screens altogether, existing only as the answer to some obscure trivia question, Cruise is still doing his thing.
However, Cruise is no longer the laser-focused A-lister who only works with the best, most provocative, and daring directors within the studio system, those who will force the actor outside of his comfort zone and challenge him to raise his game. No, that role has been occupied by one Leonardo DiCaprio for a while now, as Cruise has become content serving as Hollywood’s greatest action star, having comfortably positioned himself as “Mr. Mission: Impossible, the guy who lives to “wow” audiences with one jaw-dropping, death-defying stunt after the next. stunt. Many have remarked — jokingly or not — that Cruise could very well die one day in the name of entertaining us, which may, in fact, be how he actually hopes to go.
Last year’s Top Gun: Maverick took Cruise’s legend to a level that truly nobody saw coming. So financially successful — $718 million domestic, $1.495 billion worldwide — and so beloved was the legacy sequel that Cruise’s own stature soared even higher. He wasn’t just the premiere movie star to grace the big screen, he was the guy who saved the entire theater. That may be a bit of hyperbole, but when even Steven Spielberg is giving Cruise credit, one must take it to heart.
Of course, the stunning success of Maverick raised expectations for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One even higher, so when it didn’t dominate the summer, to the surprise of many — myself included — its underperformance came as something of a shock. Indeed, lightning doesn’t strike twice after all.
With the Mission: Impossible franchise coming to a natural conclusion and Dead Reckoning Part Two expected to serve as a sendoff film for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt when it hits theaters next summer — though it will likely move to Summer 2025 due to the strike — it may be time for Cruise to consider taking a break from his longtime collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, as the two of them can practically finish each other’s sentences at this point. They’ve done some great work together, but Cruise could stand to mix it up a bit.
Instead, there’s another Christopher who Cruise should really consider calling — one who shares his enthusiasm for large-format experiences that only movie theaters can provide.
That’s right… Christopher Nolan.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Nolan is one of the truly rare filmmakers who is a household name. Your “meat-and-potatoes” aunt and uncle who you only see every other Thanksgiving know who Nolan is, and so do your older sister’s three kids. All of them will go see his latest event film, simply because his name is on it.
The box office receipts for Oppenheimer prove that. Sure, some of the film’s success can be attributed to the pop culture phenomenon known as Barbenheimer, about which much has been written, including ATL’s analysis here and here. But one look at Oppenheimer‘s A-grade CinemaScore and the astounding legs it has had since its $82 million opening — we’re looking at a $300 million-plus domestic performance for a three-hour WWII drama about the father of the atomic bomb, headlined by a character actor most famous for being a second-tier villain in the Dark Knight trilogy — and yes, that is absolutely on Nolan.
While the director has certainly worked with plenty of A-list talent before, in a funny way, collaborating with Cruise would be a continuation of something Nolan’s been doing on and off for years. See, he was a teenager in the ’80s and grew up ingesting as many films as possible — just as Cruise’s rise began — while making his own home movies. Intentional or not — Nolan has never addressed this matter — he’s had this knack for casting actors whose heyday was in the ’80s. Think Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins; Anthony Michael Hall and Eric Roberts in The Dark Knight; Tom Berenger in Inception; and Matthew Modine in The Dark Knight Rises and Oppenheimer. So directing Cruise — arguably the decade’s biggest movie star — would be a natural progression for the British filmmaker.
Both Cruise and Nolan individually believe in and have actively promoted the theatrical experience. Both are dedicated to doing as much in-camera work as possible to pull off their action set pieces, and both are religiously devoted to filming their blockbuster spectacles with IMAX cameras and projecting them on IMAX screens. Now just imagine those two guys working together on a singular project.
Dare we say that Christopher Nolan directing Tom Cruise would be the greatest pairing since chocolate and peanut butter? Granted, it’s all conjecture for now. Next to nothing is known about Nolan’s Oppenheimer follow-up, which he has said he won’t begin working on until Hollywood’s double strike is over.
There’s also the possibility — however remote it may be — that maybe, just maybe, a certain family known for producing a certain British spy franchise could finally give Nolan a call. The stars would seem to have aligned for that opportunity, but in case we’re reading the sky wrong, a collaboration of some kind would be a hell of a mission for Cruise and Nolan… should they choose to accept it, of course.