An Analytical Assessment of Tom Cruise’s Career – The Most Consistent Box Office star in Hollywood?

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Lets graph some stuff!

Firstly – I must offer my thanks to the data site http://www.BoxOfficeMojo.com – These guys are amazing and I could spend hours on their website looking at the data on there. #DataGeek

As a baseline though, Im using domestic box office performance here rather than worldwide, based on what is available on the site.

So – I’ve been thinking about the career of Tom Cruise recently. Posts about the upcoming Mummy like this An early glimpse of Tom Cruise’s ‘The Mummy’ and his next potential franchise… led me to reflect on the nature of his move into franchises and his overall career.

In one way – the fact is that Tom Cruise has been part of the Tom Cruise franchise for 30 years. Ever since Top Gun, he has made 31 films with an average gross of $110m (add in Top Gun and its goes up further to $112m).

His career stands out as being one of the only people now whose presence in a film make it something. People don’t talk about the new Chris Evans film, they talk about the new Marvel / Captain America. People don’t talk about Harrison Ford films, they talk about new Star Wars or Indiana Jones films. Success of his career has been not driven by a character, but by him and his ability to take on the characters in each film.  The only exception here is of course the Mission Impossible franchise but even these do not largely bias his overall performance.

So lets start by looking at that performance before we compare to the rest of Hollywood. Firstly domestic gross box office performance…

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The first thing that stands out is the overall shape of the moving average (dotted blue line).  This tracks the average of the last 6 films. Since the early 90’s it has been steadily over the $100m line with only the impact of Lions for Lambs combining with Rock of Ages as being the point where it drops. The latest point is similar but given the recency of Jack Reacher : Never Go Back its likely to climb back upwards.

So what next for that line? His next film out is The Mummy in May 2017 and its very reasonable to expect this to send the line upwards sharply.

When thinking about these box office performances, its interesting to look at them in the context of their opening weekend…

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Aside from the absolute values, it the increasing reliance on opening weekends that is interesting here. Talking largely less to Cruise specifically, and more to the nature of the movie industry now. A big opening weekend has become increasingly important to the overall success of the film.  This trend was bucked with Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol which had a limited opening weekend but then grew and combined with the quality of reviews, grew and grew.

Likewise with Jack Reacher which has a lower reliance on the opening weekend but grew slowly albeit to a sub $100m value ($80m).

The thing with that of course is that Cruise is famous for his success and consistency in terms of box office. But has it really always been that consistent? If we use BoxOfficeMojo’s inflation adjusted numbers, we see a different picture.

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So now we see that the true height of Cruise’s powers in terms of box office was in the mid 90’s when his run from A Few Good Men through Mission Impossible to Jerry Maguire all made huge numbers. Since that point he has maintained peaks with Mission Impossible but overall on a towards trend. But lets be clear here, its still a very high baseline and the downwards trend is still with numbers around $100m a go.

So lets talk about ratings. How good have these films been? If we then take the data for the film box office performance, and add in the overall film rating, we can take a view about how the success of the film is influenced by the quality of the reviews. For this, I’ve used the overall rating for IMDB.com.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-18-15-26Again we see the period of the mid 90’s run driving success, but actually it is the run of Minority Report / The Last Samurai and Collateral that represent the highest run of 3 scores averaged out in a row.

But does quality drive box office performance? (I think we already know the answer to this one…) Lets use adjusted US domestic box office performance to see…

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So what stands out here? Firstly there is no significance between scores and box office performance. Across the dataset there are only two films that currently have an average rating of 8. These are Magnolia (Top left) and Rain Man (Top right).  They prove the point that ratings have not determined box office performance.

But the key things here is that Cruise has very few flops in terms of either ratings OR box office performance. The only two films to be near a 5 in ratings are Endless Love (1981) and Losin It (1983). In terms of box office, even the ones sub $50m domestic are either so early in the 80’s they barely register, or are very rare situations that are not really Tom Cruise films per se (Lions for Lambs, Rock Of Ages). Its actually Knight and Day that is the closest thing to a full on flop with $82m domestic and a score of 6.3 and is undeniably a full on ‘Cruise vehicle’.

It’s actually Edge of Tomorrow that seems to have deserved a better run at the box office given its 7.9 rating is the highest he’s had since Magnolia,

But so what?

No one came into this questioning the guy’s box office consistency. But is it really so special a thing?

So lets try and see how well this box office performance across his career stacks up across Hollywood. Lets start by trying to frame the question. Where does Tom Cruise stack up in terms of average box office performance for actors that have made, say, more than 20 films (so we avoid one off performances in big franchises). And based on data availability, we’ll stick with unadjusted performance.

So the top 10 answers for this is…

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So what do we notice here? Number one, Harrison Ford is predictably high given his work in Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Chris Evans is second but again its not his career, more his work as Captain America thats driving this. This isn’t a statement of consistency, one of whether a career has included some big spikes.

So what if we add in their biggest film, and compare the ratio of that biggest film to the overall average. If some was highly dependant on a single film (Eg, DiCaprio for Titanic) then the ratio would be high. If someone had consistently hit a $100m every single film to to exact amount, the ratio would be 1.0.

Here’s what we get.

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Harrison Ford may be top but because we’re using unadjusted numbers, the reliance on The Force Awakens is huge. Same with DiCaprio whose numbers are heavily reliant on Titanic. It is Cruise that actually has the lowest reliance on a single film to have achieved the level of box office performance that he has.

Lets look at it visually. On the below graph are the 150 most successful actors based on average box office performance, having made over 20 films.

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Lets talk top left and bottom right. Top left would be someone who has a very low average box office performance, and even worse, is highly reliant on a single film in their career to even achieve that. Think someone who made 49 films that each grossed $10k and then one that grossed $1m.

Bottom right would be the opposite. This would be someone that has a very high average box office performance and is not very reliant on a single one of their films in driving that average.  That is where we find Tom Cruise. Other actors are further to the right, but they are more reliant on a single film in determining that performance.

In fact, Cruise has the lowest ratio across all of the top actors shown on the chart. Ie, He is less reliant on a single film when comparing to his average box office than any of the other main stars around today.

So what does this all tell us?

Overall Cruise has led a near unique career. He has continued to deliver strong box office performances throughout this and very rarely seen anything that equates to a flop. Furthermore, he has done this with only a single franchise influencing this (Mission Impossible) and that franchise hasn’t offered the highest grossing film in his career in absolute terms (War of the Worlds) or when adjusting for inflation / ticket prices (Rain Man / Top Gun).

Effectively, Tom Cruise success comes not from being IN a franchise but by having a career where he IS the franchise.

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