Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Tom Cruise Taking Over United Artists


The movie star Tom Cruise just became a movie mogul. He's taking over an old studio along with his producing partner Paula Wagner.

NPR's Kim Masters reports on the effort to revive United Artists.


KIM MASTERS: The announcement from UA's parent, MGM, was sketchy. It said the partners would produce up to four films a year. That's far fewer than any major studio. It did not spell out who's paying for those films. Whatever the details, entertainment industry analyst Harold Vogel says it's nice news for Cruise and Wagner. They've been on their own since Paramount Pictures dropped their rich and long-standing production deal in August.

Mr. HAROLD VOGEL (Movie Industry Analyst): I'm sure they're elated to be back in the game again and play with other people's money, to some degree. But this is just at the stage of a press release right now.

MASTERS: UA had a storied beginning. It was founded in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith. But now it is essentially moribund, except for the occasional James Bond film. Cruise and Wagner will own a piece of the company. While Cruise has raised some money since his departure from Paramount, he clearly will need more to make even a modest slate of films. Vogel says United Artists provides the structure to lure investors.

Mr. VOGEL: Without the structure, it was just two people running a small production company in Hollywood. And who is going to put hundreds of millions of dollars into their hands?

MASTERS: Of course, Vogel says, the two could be very successful. One of them, after all, is Tom Cruise. And when he stars in a movie, it usually turns in huge numbers at the box office. But when Cruise doesn't act in the films that he's produced, the story is different. Cruise and Wagner have made six such films since 1998, and the only hit was The Others, a 2001 horror movie starring Nicole Kidman. The other five, including Elizabethtown and Suspect Zero, did not perform well. Box office analyst Brandon Gray.


Mr. BRANDON GRAY (Box Office Analyst): In total they grossed $138 million, the vast majority of that coming from The Others, which did 97 million.

MASTERS: So that makes five movies that together grossed only some $40 million. Mission Impossible 3 grossed $133 million, and that film was considered a disappointment, which leads to another question looming over the United Artists deal. After Cruise's well-publicized comments on Scientology, his courtship of Katie Holmes, his bouts on Oprah Winfrey's couch, how big of a star is he? Box office analyst Gray says Cruise is arguably still the biggest star in the world.

Mr. GRAY: But given the shenanigans of the past couple of years, and the disappointment of Mission Impossible 3, there's a question mark about our capacity maybe making movie four. We don't know what his next project will be, and that will probably clear up a lot things.

MASTERS: Many in Hollywood wonder what sort of project would best serve Cruise. Some thing he should return to the type of character he played in Jerry Maguire, the 1996 film in which he wooed and won Renee Zellweger. Then a line of dialogue from that film can take on a whole new resonance.

(Soundbite of film "Jerry Maguire")

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor) (as Jerry Maguire): Dorothy, we are back. We are so very, very back.

MASTERS: Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.