Tom Cruise, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history, has now endured one of the biggest film studio slap-downs possible. Now, the famously ambitious 44-year-old actor must ask himself, "What's next?"
Big stars are rarely excoriated so publicly by the studios. A few weeks ago when ABC-TV put the kibosh on a Holocaust miniseries that Mel Gibson's production company planned to produce, the network steered clear of any reference to the actor's arrest for drunken driving and the anti-Semitic tirade for which he has since apologized.
Morgan Creek Productions took on Lindsay Lohan, accusing the actor of behaving "like a spoiled child," and in a letter leaked to the public earlier, threatened to sue her for delaying production of the upcoming film "Georgia Rule." But Lindsay wasn't fired.
Cruise, however, has suddenly come face to face with the biggest embarrassment of his career when Paramount Pictures announced that it was ending its 14-year relationship with the star, who brought in an estimated $3 billion in box-office revenue from such blockbusters as "Top Gun" and "War of the Worlds."
What's more, Cruise's production company, which had maintained offices on the Paramount studio lot, wasn't simply handed its walking papers. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone blasted Cruise's off-screen behavior.
"It's nothing to do with his acting ability. He's a terrific actor," Redstone told The Wall Street Journal. "But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."
There's little doubt that studio executives have always fretted over the conduct of its actors, especially if they thought it was turning off moviegoers. But most of these little wars are conducted in private.
And even if a studio severs ties with an actor, it rarely rages against that actor in public, simply because the company doesn't want to diminish the value of the films that actor has made. Those films, of course, are expected to be resold as DVDs and licensed for broadcast.
In the past, Redstone has come to Cruise's defense, even when his actions have come under public scrutiny.
But in a time of shaky box office revenues, the mood in Hollywood seems to have soured as tempers flair. Many industry experts say the spat between Cruise and Redstone largely boils down to money.
"If Tom Cruise's last movie like 'Mission Impossible III' went into the 800, 900 billion-dollar range, you never know, we might not be having this discussion," Michael Speier, managing editor of the trade paper Variety, tells World News Tonight. "It is about money in the end."
"Mission: Impossible III" has earned $389 million at the box office worldwide. While it will still rank among the year's top grossing movies, the figure is far below expectations, and far lower than "Mission: Impossible II" in 2000, which had an international gross of $565 million, making it the 22nd most successful movie ever, according to IMDB.com.
The take from "M:I:3" is further diminished when you consider that it cost an estimated $150 million -- $17 million more than the film grossed in the United States. And as one of Hollywood's biggest stars, Cruise receives a percentage of the films gross revenues. In the end, Paramount might make little or no money.