This undated file photo, originally supplied by Paramount Pictures, shows Tom Cruise in a scene from 'Mission: Impossible III.' Sumner Redstone, whose company owns Paramount Pictures, said the studio would sever its 14-year relationship with Cruise's film production company because 'his recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.' Redstone estimated that Cruise's off-screen behavior cost his latest movie, 'Mission: Impossible III,' $100 million to $150 million in ticket sales, even as he praised the film as 'the best of the three movies' in the action series. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Stephen Vaughan)Tom Cruise’s loss of his production agreement at Paramount Pictures has raised a good deal of comment in film-industry circles. The action itself is rather mundane. Cruise’s deal at Paramount was on very good terms for him, which means it was expensive for the studio—more than $10 million a year. Cruise’s representatives say that Paramount made an offer to Cruise to keep his production company on Paramount’s lot, but the offer was significantly less money than the Cruise’s company had been receiving, so they decided to shop around for private financing. This is not unusual: the Hollywood studios have been slashing costs recently, especially payments to big stars such as Cruise. A slowing of growth in DVD sales has certainly contributed to this trend.

Moreover, Cruise’s company was primarily producing films not starring Cruise himself, which would suggest that any slip in popularity on his part would not affect their box-office prospects. These production deals, however, are realy just ways for studios to keep their most popular stars happy, giving them additional compensation by allowing them to function as producers—making them "creators" rather than just before-the-camera types.

Cruise’s popularity has definitely fallen in the past year, making him a less valuable commodity as an actor at Paramount. As AP reports,

[N]egative public perception of Cruise has soared in the past six months in the closely watched Q Scores, which rate celebrity popularity. They indicate that negative perception of Cruise jumped nearly 100 percent since mid-2005, while positive perception fell about 40 percent.

"He’s definitely at his low point in terms of consumer appeal, among both males and females," said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., the Q Scores company.

Actually, contra Shafer, there is room for Cruise’s rating to drop further, but that’s up to him, of course. Cruise can overcome this if he behaves somewhat normally and has another hit movie, but certainly a Cruise with these Q ratings is worth a good deal less to a movie studio than the Tom Cruise of two years ago. Welcome to Microeconomics 101, Tommy Boy. 

All of this confirms that this parting of the ways was really just a bottom-line, cost-cutting business decision on Paramount’s part. What made the situation rather surreal and newsy was two things: public awareness of Cruise’s bizarre recent history of TV rants and goofiness, and Viacom chief Sumner Redstone’s statement regarding the decision to break with Cruise’s company. The chief of Paramount’s parent company said Cruise’s recent antics—leaping about on Oprah’s sofa proclaiming his undying love for wife number 3, tearing Matt Lauer a new one for not understanding the magnitude of the conspiracies surrounding us about which Cruise and other Scientologists wish to warn us, etc.—were "creative suicide" and cost the studio up to $150 million in lost ticket sales for Mission Impossible 3.

Cast photo, Mission Impossible TV seriesPossibly, but these big crash and explosion movies may well have run their course, and the fact that the John Woo-directed Mission Impossible 2 was so irrational and uninspired probably did more to tank installment three than anything Cruise could have done. (I like Woo’s Hong Kong films and Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and even Paycheck, but I have to say that he was a poor fit for MI2, not that I can fully understand where it all went wrong; it really should have worked. Well, OK, one thing that was disastrously wrong was the fact that MI2 dumped the central concept of the TV series and first film, the creation of a vast illusion to thwart the villains through ingenious trickery. MI2 was at heart an ordinary action film with extraordinary absurdity in its action sequences, which is saying a lot. And it appears that this was a consequence of Cruise’s ego and his desire to avert rumors of homosexuality by emphasizing physical action, such as him climbing cliff faces, etc. This overbalanced the film, further removed the film series from the essentially cheerful and optimistic nature of the TV series, and made MI2 perfectly ludicrous.)

It made sense for Paramount to try to get Cruise to sign a less expensive deal and , failing that, to let him leave. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this, and no need to pile on the hapless Scientologist goofball
with harsh words. A simple "We love Tom and wish him well" would have been much better than Redstone’s high and mighty rant. As in all things, Redstone and Viacom have shown themselves as entirely devoid of class, manners, and principle. A pox on them, I say.

I’ll tell you more about the repugnance of Viacom and Redstone in future postings on this site. 

Boy, things are getting weird when I find myself defending Tom Cruise. That’s how repulsive Viacom is.