The Social Media Secret of Tom Cruise, The God of Movie Stars

By  · Published on August 3rd, 2015

Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise is the god of movie stars.

I’ve never quite understood that, because I’m not the world’s biggest Tom Cruise fan. But it’s true. After reading what the moviegoing Internet had to offer last week: Tom Cruise is absolutely the god of movie stars.

Here are three recent pieces that will make you want to give Cruise a high-five:

In an age where even Will Smith is admitting defeat and slipping into superhero spandex like everyone else, Cruise is still doing that classic Cruise thing, and he’s still undeniably successful at it. Did you know there’s a National Tom Cruise Day in Japan? October 10, every year.

What. A. Day. Thank you Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokyo and my fans all over Japan.

— Tom Cruise (@TomCruise) June 26, 2014

It’s always kind of baffled me. The two Cruise performances that really strike me with that oh my god quality are Tropic Thunder and Collateral. Both find Cruise playing as far against type as an actor could possibly go. When Cruise plays the anti-Cruise, like a wolf-grey psycho killer or a big sweaty jackass in a track suit, he’s phenomenal. When he’s just Tom Cruise, my eyes tend to glaze over. Yet he’s arguably the biggest star on the planet.

In trying to figure out just why Cruise has such massive staying power, a lot of potential reasons come up. Business Insider compiled theirs into a handy list; THR did the same when the last Mission: Impossible was released. Mush ’em together and you get one long, very compelling list of Cruise Success Essentials.


1. Diversity of roles. Cruise can hop between drama, heartthrob romance, action and comedy with ease.

2. Practical stunts. Nothing says “I’m a movie star” more than eight bazillion articles about how you could have killed yourself hanging off the edge of a plane.

3. The ability to lay low every time something Scientology-related oozes into 24-hour news cycle.

4. Relentlessly plugging his own movies.

5. Staying consistent as the other can-carry-a-movie-on-their-own stars lose their luster, making his own star power exponentially more valuable.

6. His skill in schmoozing execs and building friendships with the people who might finance a Tom Cruise pic later on down the line.

7. Ample flexibility when it comes to negotiating his paycheck.

Super compelling. But there might be something simpler at the core of the Cruise popularity empire. Which is where I turn this over to you:

Would you want to be friends with Tom Cruise?

Think of him not as a performer, but as a person. Imagine running into Cruise out in the real world. Maybe you’re in the supermarket meat aisle and there’s Tom Cruise, looking over the same selection of flank steaks. Would you say something? Is there a genuine desire inside you to discuss summer steak barbecuing with the guy from Jerry Maguire?

This is getting weirdly specific, but it’s the key to what makes a movie star in 2015. While the crop has thinned (and there’s really no one who can match Cruise’s level of dependability), we have actors who can carry a film with some level of success. I can think of three: Jennifer Lawrence, Dwayne Johnson and Chris Pratt (if he can turn his current hot streak into something consistent).

They’re not famous for their dramatic ability (although Lawrence’s dramatic chops are pretty high). Blockbuster stars, aren’t, usually. The people who saw Jurassic World in record droves for Pratt didn’t do because of his acting ability, but because The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy proved him as someone likable; charismatic in a very approachable, down-to-earth sense. You want to spend time with Pratt. You do that by buying a ticket to his next movie.

Lawrence, Johnson and Pratt are all massive box office draws, and all of them have cultivated a very specific “we could totally be friends in real life” persona, largely through social media. Did you hear about the time Dwayne Johnson sideswiped some guy’s car? It was all over Instagram.

I’ll save you the trouble of having to be all over Instagram: in May, Johnson was in Massachusetts, driving to the set of Central Intelligence (next year’s Johnson/Kevin Hart buddy comedy joint). On the drive over, Johnson was singing along to the radio so hard that he got distracted and crunched into the side view mirror of a parked car.

Here’s a fun story to start your week off… I’m driving to set in my pick up truck – music blasting – I’m singing away like I’m having a one man party in my truck – then I hear a loud BANG. What the hell..? Look in my rear view and see I sideswiped another pick up that was parked in the street and destroyed the side mirror. First thing I thought was, “Aw shit.. someone’s not gonna be happy..”. I flipped a U-turn and drove back to scene. Just as I got out of my truck a guy was walking across the street to his truck. I said “Sir, is this your truck?”. He stopped and stared at me for a good 5 seconds, looked around his neighborhood, looked back at me and “Yes it is. Why?”. I said “Well, sorry to tell ya I sideswiped it and knocked the hell outta your mirror and may have done even more damage. You give me your info and I’ll leave you mine and I’ll take care of everything”. He stared at me again, cocked his head sideways and said..”Uhhh.. Are you The Rock?”. I said “Yup”. He broke out into a huge smile and said “Wow, this is gonna be an awesome story!”. I started belly laughing at that, then he started laughing and before you know it we’re both standing in the middle of the street pointing to his mirror and laughing like two ol’ crazy buddies. I checked back in with him a few days later and he refused to accept any money and said he fixed the damage himself. Want to thank Mr. Audie Bridges of Wakefield, Mass. for being so cool about the whole thing. Life is funny cause you never know who you’re gonna run into… and sure as hell never know who’s truck you’re gonna sideswipe while driving to work. A photo posted by therock (@therock) on Jun 15, 2015 at 8:02am PDT

Johnson approached the owner (who at this point had emerged from his house), all apologies, but the guy was a giant fan and far more interested in meeting The Rock than fretting over a busted mirror. They have a few laughs. Take a huggy Instagram pic. Johnson offered to pay for all the repairs, but the guy knew his way around cars and fixed the mirror himself, rather than impose on his new celebrity bestie.

When I read this stuff, I feel a genuine pang of jealousy. How awesome would it be to have a random meet-cute with Dwayne Johnson? Granted I know nothing about cars and would have no problem accepting a Johnson-funded repair, but still. That feeling- aww man, I wish I could hang out with Dwayne Johnson– is key to someone carrying a movie. I know because over the summer, San Andreas and Ballers became must-sees for me, entirely because Dwayne Johnson was in them and Dwayne Johnson seems like a super cool guy. I want to see him in things.

Tom Cruise isn’t exactly blowing up social media by comparison (although as I write this, his most recent tweet is “I’ve just arrived in Japan for the new MISSION!” Well played, Cruise). But I think that same root of “would he be cool in real life? is a major part of Cruise’s success.

Our own Neil Miller pointed me towards another Twitter quotable, Film Crit Hulk, summing up an essential part of Cruise’s success:


— FILM CRIT HULK (@FilmCritHULK) July 28, 2015

Just in case: “NO ONE CARES MORE ABOUT YOU ENJOYING THEIR MOVIE THAN TOM CRUISE. THIS MEANS EVERYTHING.” I think you can apply this directly to Tom Cruise, and specifically his insistence on practical stunts.

Cruise strapped himself to the side of a real plane flying very high in real air, just so you’d like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and want to see it. Did you know they had to shoot that stunt- the full stunt, from takeoff to landing- eight times to get it right? Eight times Cruise flew through the air, inhaling jet fuel fumes, praying the crew members hadn’t missed a pigeon hiding on the runway. At those speeds, a pigeon hits like a ballistic missile.

Tom Cruise cares how much people like him. So much so that he’ll risk a horrifying pigeon death just to show the world how much he cares. On some primordial level, I think that resonates with people- they reciprocate the feeling, they see his movies and the guy goes 30 years without an out-and-out box office bomb. Long before Instagram, Cruise’s constant earnestness- both inside and outside his movies- was forging that same personal connection that stars forge today by tweeting their choice of breakfast cereal.

So long as he keeps it up, I have the feeling he’ll be carrying movies for the rest of his life.

Related Topics: