Tom Cruise's first big summer movie since 2006 is opening in a week and its in serious trouble. "Knight and Day" has been advertising off and on to the American public since the Super Bowl. 20th Century Fox bought sponsorships on ESPN during March Madness. They even put outdoor up weeks early, but still the action comedy starring Cruise and Cameron Diaz isn't clicking with moviegoers. And Hollywood is starting to wonder: Is Cruise pissed?
Having worked on marketing campaigns for a number of Cruise films (until I couldn't take the handlers anymore), the "Mission Impossible" star still lives by the approval code spelled out explicitly in his contract. It doesn't go out till it gets his A-O.K. And while he may not be the box office power he once was, he still has powerful agents and publicists that studios do not want to cross only to find themselves on the wrong side with their other clients. With that in mind, let's look at the evidence with one week to go, shall we?
*There's one approved photo (unheard of at this point).
*There are is one clip available for the media to cut interviews with (even Razzie-nominated movies put out more).
*Two of the biggest movie stars in the world are not featured on the poster or the film's outdoor (can you remember a movie Tom Cruise headlined that didn't feature his face on the poster? Because if it doesn't have his image, he doesn't have to approve it.)
*The date moved two days earlier for a mid-week opening rather than face-off against Adam Sandler's "Grown Ups." Not "Inception," not "Toy Story 3," not "Eclipse," but "Grown Ups."
*In a move more desperate than it seemed at the time, Cruise returned as his "Tropic Thunder" character Les Grossman -- live and in make up no less -- on the MTV Movie Awards almost two years after the original film debuted (he'd never have considered anything like that even a few years ago).
In hindsight, Fox obviously made a mistake slotting "Knight and Day" in June. It would have done much better in May where it turned out there wasn't enough product to keep moviegoers interested or fared better as an escapist winter holiday release (and not to mention the similarly themed "Killers" debuted less than three weeks before its date). Now, pre-industry polling is so bad that the studio seems to have given up on the U.S. market and are focusing their publicity efforts overseas where Cruise can still pull a strong gross. Granted, when the film division is swimming in profit after "Avatar" grossed $2.7 billion (yes, not million, billion) in theatrical alone, the studio can afford a few misses here and there. In fact, it can probably afford a good year of them. However, Cruise cannot. The fact he's returned to play Ethan Hunt one more time in "Mission Impossible 4" after a bitter divorce from Paramount Pictures less than four years ago shows how keenly aware he is of his perilous standing in the industry.
The only silver lining, and faint hope Fox and Cruise has, is that the buzz from those who have actually seen "Knight" is surprisingly good. One unnamed and usually harsh critic said it was the most entertaining film they had seen so far this summer and was "delightful." Whether word of mouth can help "Day" rebound from what should be a disappointing opening next week is unclear, but you won't be able to fault the movie this time around, just the marketing.
As for the rest of this week's rankings...
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
1. "Knight and Day" (not ranked)
Hollywood is buzzing about Cruise and Diaz's latest, but for all the wrong reasons.
2. "The Hobbit" (not ranked)
Now that Del Toro is gone and Raimi is off to "Oz," Warner Bros. and MGM is pushing Peter Jackson to finally direct "The Lord of the Rings" prequel. Will he succumb to the studio and fan wishes?
3. "The Twilight Saga" (last week No. 2)
Sure, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner survived their first LA "Twilight" convention, a weekend of press and numerous caravans of paparazzi. And the buzz is growing that "Eclipse" is the best one yet. But, with the movie still two weeks away, can we really make it No. 1 again?
4. "Inception" (last week No. 3)
Recurring conversation in the 310, 323 and 213 area code: "This summer sucks." "Yeah." "All I want to see is 'Inception.'" "Yeah, totally."
5. "Toy Story 3" (not ranked)
Ready for 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but some cracks in the love are starting to appear.
6. "The Karate Kid" (last week No. 13)
Like your father, the force is strong in you young Jaden Smith. Here comes a sequel.
7. "Batman 3" (last week No. 6)
Gosh, Chris Nolan hasn't been this press friendly since "Memento." Is he bored sitting around the house or something? This week's appearance? An Q&A where he made his disdain for 3-D very clear.
8. Los Angeles Film Festival (not ranked)
Great slate, big films, but will opening night's "The Kids Are All Right" gala screening be overwhelmed by Lakers fans celebrating an NBA Championship at the Staples Center only a block away? Talk about an after-party...
9. "Bourne Legacy" (not ranked)
The franchise will return, but will Jason Bourne and/or Matt Damon? Your guess is as good as Universals.
10. "Grown Ups" (same)
Have we mentioned that no matter how good or bad it is (and we're not insinuating or anything) it's going to make a lot of money? Of course, a different TV spot would be appealing.
11. "Clash of the Titans 2" (not ranked)
Yep, there will be a sequel or a prequel or something in ancient Greece with Sam Worthington as Perseus. Let's just hope there's no 3-D conversion this time around.
12. Lionsgate (not ranked)
Dear god, when is this going to end, Part 1. Ichan and the current boards' war for control of the company hits a fever pitch. And everyone is over it. I mean, everyone.
13. Miramax (last week No. 14)
Dear god, when is this going to end, Part 2. Now, the Weinsteins are seemingly back in the mix, because - surprise - Disney isn't thrilled with selling the mini-major to an investor who could be in jail at any moment. The Mouse House wants to play hardball to get the $600 million mark, but at this point its getting silly.
14. "Real Steel" (not ranked)
DreamWorks first movie at new distributor Walt Disney and damn, it looks pretty intriguing for a Shawn Levy flick.
15. "Despicable Me" (not ranked)
A mild summer surprise that the kiddies should really like. If it can survive the "Toy Story 3" and "Last Airbender" onslaught...
Dropping like a rock...
*"The A-Team" (last week No. 1)
Wow, that was a surprise. The most disappointing $26 million opening in years. And what's up next for Fox? Oh, "Knight and Day."
Movie Power Rankings appear every Tuesday on HitFix. Share your thoughts on this week's list below.
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