Cruise sniffs for blood at the box office

Tom Cruise and his wife Katie Holmes attend a private screening of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, United Artists film "Lions For Lambs" at The Museum of Modern Art in New York

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Published: Sat 10 Nov 2007, 11:02 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:32 AM

HOLLYWOOD LOVES a comeback story, so industry insiders are closely watching Friday's debut of political drama 'Lions for Lambs' and the return of storied film studio United Artists with its new stewards Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner.

But Wagner, Cruise's long-time producing partner and chief executive of the new United Artists, asks those waiting to see if the UA film is a hit to hold off passing judgment on ticket sales until their entire slate of movies is released over the next few years.

Looking at low box office tallies for the glut of adult dramas and stiff competition from current No. 1 'American Gangster' this week, 'Lions for Lambs' will have a tough time claiming the top spot for U.S. ticket sales.

"When we open, we don't have to be No. 1, not even No. 2," Wagner said in a recent interview. "We feel like we are in a very good place because of the economics of this movie."

Cruise, who stars along with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in the film directed by Redford, is popular overseas and expected to boost global ticket sales, and revenues from television and DVDs should recoup the movie's $35 million cost and help it turn a profit.

Hollywood should view 'Lions for Lambs' as an indicator, she said, of the types of films she and Cruise plan for UA, formed in 1919 by silent-era stars Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith.

"We are going to make films that have powerful stories, strong characters and interesting ideas," Wagner said. "We will do modestly budgeted pictures, mid-range movies and for the right projects, films that have substantial budgets."

Life after Paramount

Next year UA will release 'Valkyrie', starring Cruise as a Nazi officer in a plot to kill Hitler. Other future movies include thriller 'Die a Little', starring Jessica Biel, and 'Pinkville', about the 1968 My Lai massacre and directed by Oliver Stone.

Cruise, of course, has starred in hits from 'Top Gun' to 'Mission: Impossible'. He and Wagner, his one-time agent, partnered in Cruise/Wagner Productions, and over the years have worked on films from low-budget, critical hit 'Shattered Glass' to big-budget box office smash 'War of the Worlds'.

But in August last year, Cruise was criticized by Sumner Redstone, chairman of Viacom Inc which owns Paramount Pictures, for the lackluster U.S. box office performance of 'Mission: Impossible III'.

Depending on who in Hollywood was talking, Cruise/Wagner was either ousted from Paramount, where it had made its home for years, or packed its bags to go into business for itself.

In any case, the pair formed a business partnership with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to reinvigorate UA, originally a studio where artists could control their own work. It seemed like a perfect fit for Cruise and Wagner.

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