WWe’ve seen him climb skyscrapers. We saw him break his ankle while jumping between buildings. We have seen it cling to the side of a plane as it roars across the sky. But this week, Tom Cruise embarked on his most dangerous stunt yet: going to a movie, in a cinema, with other people, during the coronavirus pandemic. Truly, man does not know fear.
Cruise posted a 34-second video on Twitter on Tuesday. It starts with him in a car driving through London, expressing his amazement that three girls on bicycles recognize him – one of the most famous men in the world, simultaneously waving to them and filmed – as he wears a face mask. Then he stops outside Waterloo Imax, gestures to a huge Tenet poster and says “Here we are, back to the movies”. He sits next to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. The film starts. The audience applauds. We see a close up of his eyes as Tenet plays in front of him. Then, as the movie ends, Cruise yells, “Great to be back in a movie theater, everyone!” to his fellow moviegoers. “I loved it, I loved it,” he says as he leaves the auditorium. It could be in reference to Tenet himself, or just sitting in a chair for two hours. We may never know.
This is exactly what the film industry needs. The movie’s biggest star trained all of her slightly too intense enthusiasm to bring her butt back to the seats, and the reaction – if you don’t count all the panicking responses to how everyone was sitting together – was overwhelmingly positive. Theaters are back in business, and that’s thanks to Tom Cruise.
In truth, however, Cruise needs theaters to be more open than most. Every day that people stay away is a day that moviegoers get used to watching the new stuff on their TVs, and Tom Cruise is definitely not in the small screen. He is, especially at this stage of his career, a total showman. His films are now little more than a dozen ostentatious stunt sequences spliced with the finest threads of storytelling.
And that’s great – show me someone who hasn’t liked the last three Mission: Impossible movies with all their heart and I’ll show you a corpse – but the movies need theatrical releases to sing. They require collective consumption. They are fueled by the gasps and incredulous laughter of an audience. One of my favorite movie moments happened at the end of the Paris motorcycle chase in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, when the 250 people at my screening all realized at the same time that they had unwittingly withheld their breath for the duration of the sequence.
Cruise’s next movie is Top Gun 2, and like the rest of its recent release, it will depend on people watching it on massive screens. The trailers barely told a story, no pretense of a recognizable three-act structure lurking behind a barrage of practical and daring jet fighter effects. It will be an amazing thing to watch in an Imax cinema, let alone in a living room.
By a strange miracle, Cruise makes some of the best films of his career by harnessing the cinema’s aptitude for the berserk spectacle. If people stay away from theaters any longer, the movie theater experience can die off, and Tom Cruise’s hugely expensive action movies will die with them. Instead, Cruise will once again have to revert to the doldrums of mid-budget drama. Do you remember the Lions for the lambs? Do you remember how bad that thing was? No one wants Cruise to do more. So please buy a movie ticket. The man needs you.