Adam Sandler and Tom Cruise used to be the most reliable box office stars in the business. It didn’t matter how good their movies were, as Sandler brought the comedy fans packing into theaters – as long as it wasn’t a dramatic comedy – and Cruise brought action and drama fans in to watch him save the day. But they are far away from those good old days this summer, as evidenced by the lackluster performance of Sandler’s Blended and the third-place opening weekend for Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.
But the real evidence of Sandler and Cruise’s fading box office power isn’t in what their movies made, or didn’t make. It is really evidenced in where their movies were placed in the summer calendar. Whereas Sandler and Cruise’s movies used to always be the top draw in whatever weekend they opened in, Blended and Edge of Tomorrow had no chance to open big with their competition.
There was virtually no hope for Blended to make anything big, since it was opening directly against X-Men: Days of Future Past. The fact that a Sandler movie could have been dumped into that kind of no-win opening weekend, when it would have been unthinkable at his peak, shows how low his standing is now. Even if Blended had gotten more than 14 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes – or if X-Men got less than 90 percent positive – it might have turned out the same way.
No matter how critically despised Sandler’s movies were, or when they opened, they were almost always the big new opening for a weekend. Given that Blended reteamed him with Drew Barrymore, in a pairing that had two hits beforehand, one would think that would earn it a less crowded premiere date. But since Sandler isn’t on top of the A-list these days, they can apparently throw his movies out as sacrificial lambs to the X-Men.
Cruise still brings in profits, although these days most of his box office power is overseas. That may help explain why Edge of Tomorrow got its own no-win opening weekend placement in America, against the young adult phenomenon The Fault In Our Stars. On paper, a massive sci-fi film starring Cruise in IMAX 3D should be able to best a weepy teen romance between cancer-stricken teenagers – but that was in the old days of Hollywood. In this current era, film versions of young adult favorites beat the likes of Cruise by a landslide.
But the defeat of Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow is more unfortunate, since it actually turned out to be well liked by critics. Despite the stiff competition and the widely panned marketing campaign, Edge of Tomorrow became the most acclaimed non-sequel Cruise has headlined in years. However, so much damage has been done to Cruise’s reputation and earning power over the years, it may be a case of too little, too late.
At the least, there’s still a chance for word-of-mouth to help Edge of Tomorrow. But with the highly anticipated and already critically favored sequels How To Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street opening the very next weekend, there’s even less room to expand. If Edge of Tomorrow had opened on the much less crowded weekend of June 20, there might have been more room to make an impact, although it would have gone against Think Like A Man Too and Jersey Boys on that opening day.
When Cruise and Sandler were in their prime, they never had this kind of competition on their movie’s first weekend. No matter how good or bad their films were, they were designed to open huge and unchallenged if they were big, expensive and marketed halfway well. Of course, this has long been regarded as an era where actual actors don’t open movies by themselves anymore.
Cruise and Sandler held out long enough, but the way their films have been handled and dumped off this summer proves that they couldn’t hold out forever. If they are willing to send Sandler to box office slaughter against the X-Men, or unwilling to give Cruise extra help against John Green’s tear-jerking teens, then it reflects where they stand on Hollywood’s priority list now.
But perhaps Sandler and Cruise were just unfortunate to open these movies in a more crowded summer than usual. Perhaps once Sandler pairs up with his other old friends again, in a Grown Ups 3 or some other vintage effort, he’ll bring his fans back with him. And since Cruise does still open big in the rest of the world, the business still has some use for him – plus he’s at least gotten back into critics’ good graces for a while with Edge of Tomorrow.
Nevertheless, it is still clear that Sandler and Cruise are no longer sure things to open a movie at No. 1 – and are no longer guaranteed to get every chance to do it. Now that they are just as likely to be second or third bananas during an opening weekend, they’re going to need to put in some real work – at least in finding bigger and better projects – to be No. 1 for at least a few days at a time again.