Tom Cruise Is Just Standing There

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It may be hard to believe in 2018, but Tom Cruise only really became an action movie star after 2000 following the release of Mission: Impossible 2. While Top Gun and Days of Thunder were certainly thrilling films, each with their own particular need for speed, they were the exceptions in a pre-2000 filmography that was more focused on dramas such as The Firm, A Few Good Men and Rain Man or comedies like Risky Business. Even the original Mission: Impossible didn’t really kick the action phase into full gear as it was followed by Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut and other dramas.

Since 2000, though, the actor has focused on the action genre, only sprinkling in the occasional drama and saving comedy for a handful of cameos. His tendency to run away from things in those action movies has given rise to a number of videos, memes and GIFs bringing together all the times he’s had to run from sandstorms, collapsing buildings, explosions and other threats.

tom cruise running

The trailers for recent releases like The Mummy, Edge of Tomorrow, American Made have all made sure to include heavy doses of the actor’s physicality. If you look at the posters for those same movies, though, you see he’s just…kind of there. He might be walking toward the camera or something, but he’s largely in some kind of static pose.

The message from the studio marketers seems to be that his mere presence, usually larger than all the other elements on the one-sheet, should be enough to attract the audience. Let’s look at the one-sheets for Cruise’s output since 2000, when he ran around the corner onto Action Blvd. and see whether they feature a man in motion or if we just see him standing there.

  • Vanilla Sky: Cruise looks pensive and slightly confused here, which makes sense given the reality-bending nature of the story. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Minority Report: This predated the “Tom Cruise running” phenomenon and not only does show him in motion but even features the tagline “Everyone runs.” Verdict: Running.
  • The Last Samurai: Technically he’s moving here, but it’s only because the horse he’s riding is running. Verdict: Running.
  • Collateral: One of his more passive appearances, here he’s not only completely still he’s actually sitting down, taking a load off. Verdict: Not Running.
  • War of the Worlds: An aberration where Cruise is almost completely absent from the poster campaign, likely because this was *immediately* after his whole “jumping on Oprah’s couch” incident and lots of negative stories about his involvement with Scientology. Verdict: Disqualified.
  • Mission: Impossible III: Mostly the posters here had him looking serious and determined, not necessarily moving about. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Lions For Lambs: A rare foray back into straight drama, I’m not sure many of the actors moved in the movie itself, much less on the poster. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Valkyrie: A movie about plots and schemes and political maneuvering doesn’t lend itself to a very dynamic campaign, at least not in print. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Knight & Day: Meshing comedy and action, Cruise shows up on the theatrical poster in motion, but oddly as a silhouette. Verdict: Running.
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: For a movie whose key action sequence on the outside of a Dubai skyscraper was so key to the marketing, two of the three theatrical posters (the exception being the IMAX version) show Cruise just walking along. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Rock of Ages: No, but he should have run away from whoever asked him to wear that jacket. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Jack Reacher: Once again, we’re supposed to imply his action chops because he’s holding a gun and looking serious. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Oblivion: Not only is he walking, but he’s far from the camera, reflecting the desire to sell the movie as a sci-fi spectacle more than anything. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Edge of Tomorrow: Surprisingly, this movie was sold with a minimum of Running Tom Cruise, including on the posters, where he and Emily Blunt are largely just observing the chaos around them, not doing anything about it. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: Once again the IMAX poster is the only one that doesn’t feature a passive Cruise, this time largely shown as the big head in the background. Verdict: Not Running.
  • Jack Reacher: Never Go Back: Ironic title since the marketers *did* go back to the same concept of Cruise standing there with a gun. Verdict: Not Running.
  • The Mummy: The most action Cruise is shown engaging in on the posters here is dangling from a rope while exploring a tomb. Verdict: Not Running.
  • American Made: I’m not even sure this is an intentional choice, as the photo of a smiling, relaxed Cruise used here may have just been taken on a random Saturday. Verdict: Not Running.

So there you have it: The posters – or at least most of the posters – for 14 out of Cruise’s 18 movies since 2000 feature little to no action. Take that, internet.

That’s more than a little surprising given not only how action-oriented the movies themselves are but how much Cruise’s physicality is used as part of the publicity campaign for many of these titles. Especially in the last five years or so, official featurettes and media interviews will touch on how willing the actor was to do his own stunts and how complicated and involved those stunts usually were. As he gets closer and closer to 60, he wants to keep positioning himself as ready and able to jump out of planes, run across bridges and engage in elaborate sequences, which makes sense, it’s just not a message that’s been communicated on the posters much at all.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Marketing Recap

mission_impossible fallout posterYou can read all about the marketing of Mission: Impossible – Fallout over at The Hollywood Reporter.

Media and Publicity

Until just a few days prior to the movie’s release there wasn’t a whole lot of earned media activity outside of what resulted from the distribution of official featurettes and other content.

That didn’t change until just recently as Tom Cruise stopped by “Kimmel” to engage in some pranks and talk some more about the injuries he sustained filming the stunts in the movie. Henry Cavill also showed up on “GMA” to talk about the movie in general.

It’s not terribly surprising there wouldn’t be a whole lot of these kinds of press appearances. Cavill has a history of putting his foot in his mouth during interviews and I don’t think anyone wants Cruise speaking in a non-monitored environment. Plus, owned channels were utilized sufficiently to get the word out, especially how widely and frequently that content was amplified by the press.

There have also been a few new IMAX-related promotions that continue to emphasize how big the movie is and how you need to see it on the biggest screen possible to fully enjoy it. Those include a look at how such a screen was constructed for the Paris premiere and members of the cast talking about what they would do with 26% more of various objects.

Overall

It’s almost as if it’s being sold as the anti-comic book movie. The characters may likewise regularly survive situations that the average person wouldn’t, but the studio and star are telling us the stakes are far higher because they’re very, very real.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

The popular Battlegrounds Mobile video game is getting a movie-themed level.

There’s some good points made in this story about how the M:I franchise is the rare movie sold on its star and not an IP brand. I don’t, though, think it goes far enough to look at how the marketing relied on the combination of Tom Cruise’s name recognition and the promise of mind-blowing stunt work *is* a brand. If Cruise was actually still a market-driver on his own, Edge of Oblivion 2 would already be in production.

A new TV spot has been released emphasizing the incredibly high marks the movie has received from critics.

Lots more official featurettes have been released, including an IMAX Q&A with director Christopher McQuarrie, and character-specific profiles of Simon Pegg, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett.

Bassett also joined Tom Cruise on “The Late Late Show” while Cavill popped up on “Kimmel” to talk about stunts and other aspects of making the movie. Meanwhile costar Vanessa Kirby, who wasn’t a huge part of the main campaign, was interviewed about the stunts (of course) and her decision to join the franchise.

A location-based VR experience has been developed by VRWERX and Nomadic that allows participants to interact with objects and environments from the film.

Two new featurettes came in early December, one showing how members of the press were taken for a helicopter ride and one about how those same journalists and producers were taken for a spin on BMW’s stunt test track. Both of those still find time to mention how hard Cruise worked to master the needed skills.

 

American Made – Marketing Recap

The “action/adventure” phase of Tom Cruise’s career continues in this week’s American Made. Directed by Doug Liman, the movie casts Cruise in the true story of Barry Seal, an everyday guy who’s recruited by the CIA to run drugs on behalf of a cartel as part of a covert operation.

Seal, a natural hustler and fast-talker, is a perfect fit for this assignment, able to talk his way out of any situation, while alternatively relying on the resources of either the cartel or CIA, depending on the situation. So he’s living the high life while acting as both patriot and criminal, able to enjoy the benefits of both employers.

The Posters

Cruise walks toward the camera with a bag spilling out money in his hand and a cocky smile on his face. “It’s not a felony if you’re doing it for the good guys” reads the copy at the top, building the expectation that the story will live right on the edge of legality. A cool red-striped design behind him shows the criminals his actions bring him in contact with, the plane he’s going to be flying and his worried-looking wife. It’s a cool design that, because there’s even a bit of attention being paid to how art works, sells a pretty appealing movie.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens by showing Seal being accosted mid-air by the DEA and forced to land on a suburban street before beating a hasty getaway. We then flashback to see him as a regular airline pilot who’s recruited by the CIA to run some very questionable shipments into some rough areas. He’s really good at this and so operations expand, but so does the scrutiny given to him and the stakes of what he’s doing. That not only causes tension with his wife but also leads to him being at the wrong end of a rifle more times than he might be comfortable with.

It’s a fast, loose and fun trailer that shows how much style director Doug Liman has when he wants to. Cruise is more appealing here than he has been in at least a few years because he’s not trying to be all brow-furrowing serious but because he’s given a chance to bring his natural charisma and charm to bear. It’s not just about him running, it’s about a character that lives on the edge of danger and that’s a Cruise we don’t see too often these days.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you’re promised “The sky is never the limit.” In the upper left is a prompt to buy tickets while in the bottom right there’s a small video player just above links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

In the upper right of the main page is a button encouraging you to “Fly With Barry.” That opens up an interactive map where you can explore the routes he took and the missions he was engaged in. It’s a cool way to dive into the real story that inspired the movie.

Back to the main page, scroll down and after a few images and graphics you get to the “About” section that has a brief synopsis along with a cast and crew list. The “Characters” section just has a still along with who the actor playing the real-life character is.

“Photos” has some production stills and the poster you can scroll through, while “Videos” has the trailer and a couple featurettes that take you inside the production or offer insights into the real Barry Seal.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The trailer, or at least parts of it, were used as pre-roll ads on YouTube that play out the unbelievable nature of the story, which is presented as fast and loose. Other pre-roll spots included a featurette that focused on Cruise’s enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Social media ads used clips from the trailer as well.

Media and Publicity

Liman apparently sought Gleeson out for the movie, citing the actor’s work ethic as a big reason for casting him. The director also spoke about how Cruise did all his own flying, a variation on the “does many/all of his own stunts” theme that often accompanies his movies, meant to prove the actor’s continued youth and vitality despite the fact that he’s 55.

Oddly, at least at this point, there’s no major presence by Cruise himself in the publicity campaign. Instead his role has been limited to featurettes and official media like this one, which keep him on-script and don’t open him up to unpredictable questions or audience interactions. That might be because of the increased scrutiny Scientology is under at the moment or because of a lawsuit over the deaths of two pilots during production that he’s named in. Whatever the reason, it’s odd to have a star of his magnitude confined to the sidelines.

Overall

As we’ve seen a few times in the last month, this is being sold as a middle-of-the-road adventure-filled comedic drama featuring a huge star. It promises the audience a rollicking good time following the story of someone few are likely to be already familiar with but which promises exotic locations, drugs and a lavish lifestyle courtesy of illegal activity. It’s positioned as escapist entertainment.

The combination of a limited marketing campaign – just one poster and just one trailer for a Tom Cruise movie! – and a publicity push that didn’t include the star almost at all make it a lackluster overall effort, though, and one that the public might see through. There’s some good stuff here to be sure but I can’t escape the notion there’s a lack of faith betrayed by the marketing. Clearly being in the Tom Cruise business is still a good call, but for some reason the studio is a bit gun-shy it seems.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.