The hook of Tom Cruise’s new movie, “Edge of Tomorrow,” is that the actor’s character is caught in an endless time loop, succumbing to the same fate again and again.
It’s also an unfortunate and apt metaphor for how the actor has fared at the box office, and “Edge of Tomorrow” is unlikely to reverse the 51-year-old’s plummeting popularity with moviegoers, especially those in the United States.
If “Edge of Tomorrow” fizzles, it is likely to advance the debate inside Hollywood over whether any actor can deliver a hit just through star power alone.
Hollywood’s audience tracking surveys, which poll potential ticket buyers before a movie opens, suggest that “Edge of Tomorrow” could gross as little as $25 million in its first three days of release this coming weekend.
That’s a dreadful debut for a movie that cost about $180 million to produce and about as much to market and release. In addition to Cruise, the Doug Liman-directed feature stars Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton.
“Nobody really knows what this film is,” Doug Creutz, a senior media and entertainment analyst for Cowen & Co, told Variety. “There isn’t a huge amount of action competition, and there’s room for a film like this this summer, and yet there’s no buzz.”
“Edge of Tomorrow” almost certainly will be bettered by the debut of “The Fault in Our Stars,” a far less expensive adaptation (reported budget: $12 million) of the popular young adult novel of the same name that could bring in as much as $40 million in its initial three days.
Cruise’s recent box-office woes are strangely limited to the United States, even though “Edge of Tomorrow,” which is attracting generally laudatory reviews, already has opened to soft business overseas.
The actor’s last few movies have almost all done materially better business beyond America’s borders. A year ago, Cruise’s “Oblivion” grossed a modest $89 million domestically, but took in an additional $197 million overseas. In 2012, “Jack Reacher” did a so-so $80 million in local theaters, but fared better internationally, with $138 million.
Movie stars, though, are supposed to be audience magnets everywhere: That’s why they get paid tens of millions of dollars and you don’t.
But it’s not just Cruise who is struggling at the box office. Consider these recent flops (figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com):
- Vince Vaughn's “Delivery Man.” Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013. Cost: $26 million. Domestic box office: $30.6 million
- Nicole Kidman's “The Railway Man.” Release Date: April 11. Cost: N/A. Domestic box office: $4.1 million.
- Johnny Depp's "Transcendence." Release Date: April 18. Cost: $100 million. Domestic box office: $22.9 million.
- Adam Sandler's “Blended.” Release date: May 23. Cost: $40 million. Domestic box office: $31.7 million.
Not all stars have lost their luster.
Angelina Jolie’s presence boosted the performance of last week's “Maleficent,” though it’s also the case that the family-friendly movie drew parents desperate for PG-rated entertainment (45 percent of its patrons were families). Opening last week, the movie topped the domestic box office with about $88.4 million so far.
But the fact is that most big-budget movies succeed not because they have recognizable stars but because audiences respond to their concept and execution. “Godzilla” didn’t work because it featured Aaron Johnson, and people didn’t flock to “The Lego Movie” because Chris Pratt performed one of its voices.
Although a handful of movies would suffer greatly if they were recast — it’s impossible to imagine “Iron Man” without Robert Downey Jr. or “The Hunger Games” absent Jennifer Lawrence — it’s equally true that some actors can actually damage a film’s prospects.
Had “Edge of Tomorrow” starred someone with less baggage than Cruise, Warner Bros. might not be panicking over the film’s fate.
What do you think? Do you go to films because of the stars? Or do you go because of the premise or story? Let us know on Facebook, on Twitter (@KPCC) or in the comments below.