Box Office Sabermetrics: Tom Cruise’s Batting Average

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Box Office Sabermetrics is a weekly column that will attempt to apply the statistical analysis Sabermetrics, used in Baseball, to the box office results each weekend.

One of my favorite books, and favorite movies of the decade, is Moneyball. Telling the story of how A’s General Manager Billy Beane and his front office used statistical analytics – called Sabermetrics – to put together a winning team off a low budget and undervalued players. I’ve always enjoyed that side of Baseball, how integral we evaluate statistics is to the sport, so I thought it was high time I brought it to how we evaluate movies. Given that film is a subjective medium, the only real hard statistic we have to evaluate is box office returns. So, each week I will be taking a look at the weekend numbers and seeing what Baseball statistics have to say about them.

Here are the box office numbers for the weekend:

  1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation      $55.5 million
  2. Vacation                                                         $14.6 million
  3. Ant-Man                                                         $12.8 million
  4. 4. Minions                                                      $12.3 million
  5. Pixels                                                               $10.5 million
  6. Trainwreck                                                    $9.6 million
  7. 7. Southpaw                                                   $7.6 million
  8. Paper Towns                                                  $4.6 million
  9. Inside Out                                                       $4.5 million
  10. Jurassic World                                              $3.9 million

All of 15 people saw Vacation this weekend, but as always, it’s all about Tom Cruise. Also, since it’s our first go at this column, we’re going to take it easy and look at a simple statistic – batting average. Batting Average is what you get when you take the amount of at-bats a hitter has and divide them by the number of hits they have gotten.

Tom Cruise needed a win. Since the beginning of this decade, we’ve seen Cruise taking far more creative chances than you would expect a star as image-conscience as him would take. He’s taken on an ambitious newcomer in Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion), rehabilitated Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) and opened the door to live action filmmaking for Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol). The biggest project of his has been breaking Christopher McQuarrie out of director’s prison, first with Jack Reacher and now with Rogue Nation.

Cruise has had seven films released since 2010, yet only two of those has made a domestic profit – his Mission: Impossible films. Ghost Protocol made $209 million domestically against a $145 million budget ($694 worldwide if you were wondering). (Disclosure: We’re going to go ahead and count Rogue Nation as a domestic win here as when you add the foreign intake of $65 million, it has already grossed $120 million against its $150 million budget.)

Cruise is batting just .286 (2-7) this decade in terms of domestic profitability in his films. This is a stark downturn from previous decades. His batting average from 2000-2009 is a fantastic .625 (5-8), more than double his current batting average, his only misses coming with The Last Samurai ($111 million against a $140 million budget), Lions for Lambs ($15 million against a $35 million budget) and curiously enough, Mission: Impossible III ($134 million against a $150 million budget). It’s worth noting though that foreign intakes would propel all three of those films to profitability. (Technically, his biggest domestic opening was his cameo in Austin Powers in Goldmember at $73 million)

His batting average from 1990-1999 is even better at a whopping .667 (6-9), his only misses coming with Far and Away (near miss, $58 million against a $60 million budget), Eyes Wide Shut ($55 million against a $65 million budget) and Magnolia ($22 million against a $37 million budget). It’s worth noting again that all those films had foreign intakes that propelled them to profitability.

You’re probably sensing a theme here, right? If we go from Top Gun onward, literally Cruise’s only film that has not turned a worldwide profit – however minimal – has been 2012’s Rock of Ages. That’s a total of 32 films counting Rogue Nation. Even more so, he’s the undisputed lead in 22 of those films counting Rogue Nation. So even if we only want to count those films, that puts his lead actor worldwide batting average at .688 since Top Gun, which is even better than his 2000s and 1990s numbers. So while his domestic batting average has steadily decreased, his worldwide and foreign numbers are and always have been just about as good as it gets.

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It’s difficult to pin down why Cruise’s domestic batting average has fallen off so much this decade. It seems with all the action films he’s been doing, it’s an attempt to stay dominant, but one that hasn’t worked out. It does have a silver lining though, and that silver lining is breaking Christopher McQuarrie out of director’s jail. McQuarrie needed a win too. This is the director’s third film in 15 years since his tragically underrated debut The Way of the Gun. That film only grossed $13 million worldwide against a $21 million budget, and 2012’s Cruise team-up Jack Reacher didn’t fare much better stateside, barely topping its $60 million budget with $80 million. After this weekend, the hope is that McQuarrie will now have free reign to do whatever he wants next. All the losses that Cruise has taken this decade are worth it if McQuarrie gets to have a passion project funded following Rogue Nation.

The success here in Rogue Nation is the reminder of his box office power that studios need to keep backing his films. Cruise is in the most bizarrely creative period of his career, reinforcing his figure as a star that works for his directors. He can continue to make great films that don’t turn a profit like Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow for filmmakers like McQuarrie now that Rogue Nation has solidified his status. While he’s done practically nothing but action films this decade, he hasn’t been this willing to take risks since he starred in Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia right after each other.

There’s not a whole lot of actors that can get a studio to front their films for $100+ million budgets, and the fact that Cruise is using that power for the benefits of filmmakers like McQuarrie speaks to his intentions to commit to his directors. The only tragedy is that domestic audiences only seem to show up if he’s doing impossible missions. After this weekend, he can now continue to make riskier films that might not turn a domestic profit before going back to the Ethan Hunt well. As long as he has that role to reprise, he can continue to help filmmakers like McQuarrie. But what will be more exciting to watch is how much longer he can keep his monstrous box office presence oversees going. That’s the real impossible mission for him to execute.

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