When Tom Cruise signed on to play Senator Jasper Irving in Lions for Lambs last year, he was less concerned with redefining his post-couch jump career than shaping his legacy as a studio owner. His role opposite Meryl Streep and Robert Redford was intended to lend further star power to Lions, the first movie that he and partner Paula Wagner released through United Artists, which they took over in 2006.
But Lions came into theaters last weekend like a lamb, earning just $6.7 million. (The haul was Cruise’s lowest opening since 1986, excluding limited bows.) And given the type of season the box office is having, chances are it will go out like one, too.
There’s plenty of blame to spread around. The reviews were scathing. The public has avoided star-studded political films this fall, and Lions had the misfortune of opening after Rendition and In the Valley of Elah flopped. Add in a promotional campaign that felt more heavy-handed than thrilling, and it’s no surprise that moviegoers preferred the adventures of an animated bee.
UA may not recoup Lions‘ $35 million budget, so its outlook now hinges on the 45-year-old’s next star vehicle, Valkyrie, a WWII drama about Germany’s Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. The plan is to market it as an action-packed summer movie, but Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns), will have to be better than its recently released trailer, which has been panned for Cruise’s curlicue hairstyle, distracting eye patch, and Valley Boy accent. (A source close to the production says it was better for Cruise to ignore the German dialect, lest he sound like Hogan’s Heroes‘ Colonel Klink.) Of course, Valkyrie isn’t the kind of movie that used to earn Cruise the unconditional love of fans. ”Until he makes a popcorn movie,” notes one industry exec, ”we won’t know if it’s over.”