It might be hard to believe among Millennials who have grown up with post-2000 Tom Cruise, but he wasn’t always an action star. In fact, if you look at his pre-turn-of-the-century filmography you’ll find mostly comedies and dramas. The closest he came to “action” were Top Gun, Mission: Impossible and Days of Thunder, but even those weren’t traditional action movies, instead coming off more as dramas with occasional action sequences than what we would consider and action movie. By that I mean there weren’t regular scenes of Cruise engaging in up-close, personal conflict against an enemy or getting his hands dirty on a mission of some sort.
That changed in 2000, when it seemed Cruise wanted to reinvent himself and keep his career viable. Not that his star was fading, but he seemed to acknowledge he couldn’t keep the “actively charming” vibe going forever. While he’s still turned in dramatic and comedic roles here that there he largely turned to action movies to keep the fire going. So today we’re going to look at the trailers for Tom Cruise Phase 2: The Action Star.
2000 – Mission Impossible 2
Coming five years after the original, this one was sold as a straight-up action movie. It starts out by giving us a full 15 seconds of Cruise beefcake as he climbs a mountain, a sequence that more or less ends with him staring straight at the camera to announce his return and make his involvement as clear as possible. From there on out he’s constantly running through things and jumping off of things. To underline it all, John Woo’s name is prominent to help give the movie some serious action film cred.
2002 – Minority Report
While the movie itself is much more of a drama, there is still plenty of running and jumping that goes on and this trailer contains it all. It’s positioning the movie as a somewhat heady action film, laying out the basic premise of Pre-Crime and the flaws that are part of a supposedly perfect system, but it doesn’t waste a lot of time before it’s focused mostly on showing Cruise evading his pursuers by jumping across a series of cars, running through buildings and more.
2005 – War of the Worlds
Paramount so desperately wanted to sell this as an action movie it’s practically begging the audience to ignore the dramatic parts and just pay attention to the explosions. There’s plenty of Cruise running through debris and he’s featured in a lot of the footage, but it’s important to remember just how passive a role he plays in the movie, the exact opposite impression that’s created by the trailer.
2008 – Valkyrie
Once more, this is a straight-forward drama that’s being sold, incorrectly for the most part, as an action powerhouse. Cruise’s brand as an action star was pretty well entrenched at this point so MGM was obviously playing up the handful of explosions the movie features, but it makes it look like a thrilling rollercoaster ride of car chases and other sequences, when it’s very much not. Also notable that Cruise is the only American in the main cast and he’s not even trying the British accent the rest of the cast sports.
2010 – Knight & Day
By this point he’d become such an established action star he was poking fun at that persona by starring in an action-comedy alongside Cameron Diaz. The trailer plays up both aspect of the story equally, but it’s hard to miss the emphasis that’s given to Cruise sporting machine guns, deftly taking out an airplane-full of bad guys and otherwise being a hardass.
2012 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
The trailer for the fourth M:I installment really honed the formula, featuring not one but three different shots of Cruise running away from looming danger. When he’s not running from danger he’s engaging in it, jumping out of buildings, intentionally crashing cars and so on. What’s notable here is that this is when studios still thought Jeremy Renner was going to be a breakout action star, so he’s given quite a bit of screen time and setup as a foil for Cruise.
2012 – Jack Reacher
Notably missing from Cruise’s action entries was a solid solo movie. The M:I franchise was built around him being part of an ensemble but he didn’t have anything where he was alone and kicking ass. That changed in 2012 with the first Jack Reacher movie, which was sold as him just tearing up all obstacles on his path to do what’s right. We’re told repeatedly what a specialist he is and that he doesn’t care about anything but the truth, something that was as much about selling Cruise to the masses as it was selling the character.
2013 – Oblivion
After a brief sci-fi setup, the rest of the movie is sold as Cruise once more the only one who can get to the truth, often it seems with a blaster rifle and a raised voice. The sci-fi premise is discarded very early in the trailer in favor of shots of Cruise demanding to know what’s going on, shooting at mysterious creatures coming out of the darkness and other action elements.
2014 – Edge of Tomorrow
Despite the obvious action elements – the campaign certainly emphasizes sequences where Cruise and Blunt battle aliens while wearing giant mech suits – it also does what it can to focus on the story, selling the audience on the mystery of what’s happening and why the two characters keep resetting. It’s very well balanced in terms of mixing in different tones and parts of the story, something that’s all the more disappointing considering the movie failed to light a fire at the box office.