From Alison Brie to Zach Randolph, and everything in between.
This spring’s release of Will Smith and son’s After Earth & Tom Cruise’s Oblivion poses an important question:
how is M. Night Shyamalan still employed when will audiences reach their saturation point towards post-apocalyptic movies? Between these two films, the latest zombie craze (Walking Dead, Revolution, Warm Bodies, World War Z) and the Hunger Games franchise, soon Hollywood has to run out of reasons why the entire human race, minus Earth’s most beautiful people, has been wiped out. Possibly scarier than the loss of civilization is the thought of Hollywood without the stars of the two films above. Will Smith (44) and Tom Cruise (50) are arguably the two biggest movie stars alive today, but despite what their physical trainers would tell you, both are well past their action-star primes. They draw obvious comparisons: both are Scientologists with well-documented personal lives, both have helmed huge box office franchises, and both had notable roles where they pranced around shirtless.
Who’s the bigger star? The numbers paint an interesting picture. I tried to develop a crude way to measure an actor’s “Star Power” a few posts ago, when I took on the cast of The Avengers. The formula boiled down to three parts:
Quality of movies x Box office success x Social Media following = Star Power
Taking a look at the first portion, here are each of their films’ Rotten Tomatoes Scores, in order of age the actors were at the time:
Tom Cruise boasts a 64% RT average, while Will Smith’s only averages 55%, in sixteen less films. Somehow, after thirty (!) years, Risky Business is still Tom Cruise’s highest rated film at 98%, beating his recent surprise critical hit, Ghost Protocol. Meanwhile, Smith thrives in that 60-70% “entertaining, but flawed” category, with seven of his biggest films (Independence Day, I,Robot, Pursuit of Happyness, Ali, Hitch, MIB3, I Am Legend) falling in that range and only the first Men in Black and his first two tiny films rating over 80%. By comparison, Cruise features twelve films over 80%. Even ignoring the imperfect numbers from Rotten Tomatoes, Cruise has 10 Oscar/Golden Globe nominations with 3 wins under his belt, while Smith only has 4 nominations (six if you count Fresh Prince). Cruise has the clear advantage in the quality of his resume.
Here are their Opening Weekend Box Office dollars, adjusted for inflation (data from BoxOfficeMojo), along with a trend line for each actor:
Agent J strikes back, beating Ethan Hunt with a $45.8M to $28.2M average opening weekend gross, adjusted for inflation. MIB, Independence Day & I Am Legend all had adjusted opening weekends of over $85M, a number Tom Cruise only bested once with MI:2. What’s interesting is how audiences turned out when these two had similar movies released around the same time. In June 1996, hot off Jerry Maguire momentum, Mission Impossible grossed a fantastic $81.6M- only to be defeated two months later by nearly $10M by Independence Day, Smith’s first real blockbuster. Both movies even had the same exact Rotten Tomatoes score of 61%. Perhaps the starkest contrast came in June 2002, when Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller Minority Report rode its rave reviews (92%) to a nice opening weekend raking in $48M. A month later, the highly anticipating and majorly disappointing (39%) sequel to Men in Black, buoyed by Smith’s stardom, enjoyed a whopping $72M opening weekend. After Earth vs. Oblivion will be the best case study yet – same genre, same overdominating CGI, and same poster font. Based on sheer numbers so far, Will Smith is a box office giant.
Edge: Will Smith
To measure Social Media presence, albeit crudely, I took the number of Facebook likes for each movie’s individual Facebook page (some of their earlier films didn’t have one). Franchises (Mission Impossible, MIB & Bad Boys) were only counted once for these charts, since those either share a Facebook page or have inflated numbers due to multiple pages.
Cruise averages 12M Facebook likes over 28 films, but Smith has a comfortable advantage, averaging 17M over 16 films. Shockingly, Smith outpaces Cruise on their personal Facebook pages 45M to just 3.8M for Cruise. Smith does have the Fresh-Prince and his brief music career to boost his numbers, but why do almost 12x more people “like” Smith? My guess is the Les Grossman-sized gap is due to the Smith family’s carefully cultivated public image. Barely any buzz has come out of the rumored conflict between he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith, and the whole Scientology thing is never held against them the way it’s held against Cruise. On top of that, Will Smith has meticulously chosen roles that support his good-guy image- most recently, he turned down Django Unchained because, on top of it tackling risque subject matter, the role of Django wasn’t the lead. In 1999 he turned down a smaller sci-fi flick written by some unknowns in favor of another $170M-budget Barry Sonnenfeld blockbuster that featured the uh, hilarious, scene below. That role he passed up? Neo from The Matrix.
On the other hand, the negatives in Cruise’s personal life have been well documented- from his outburst on Oprah to his public divorce with Katie Holmes and the ensuing hijinx. All this has hurt the public’s perception of him and definitely have an effect on his “likes”. In addition, career-wise, Cruise, unlike Smith, hasn’t been afraid to take chances. Look at the chart above: his highest rated movies are straight dramas, some of which are extremely controversial- and thus have the least “likes”. He’s played the manipulative brother of an autistic savant (Rain Man), an orgy participant (Eyes Wide Shut), and a paralyzed war vet that invented a familiar high school game (Born on the Fourth of July). Meanwhile, his lower-rating, more accessible films – Mission Impossible, Top Gun – have the most likes. Nearly all of Will Smith’s movies are mass-audience friendly, which explains his huge advantage in both Box Office dollars and Facebook likes.
Edge: Will Smith
The formula below was applied to each movie individually, and then averaged and totaled below.
In sixteen less movies, Will Smith still blows Tom Cruise out of the water in Star Power total, and handily eclipses him in average.
In 2012 Forbes released their annual list of highest-paid actors- Cruise ranked #1 earning $75M, while Smith ranked #8 raking in “only” $30M. Similar to my previous Avengers article, if you divide their salary by each actors’ Star Power, you get a multiplier. The lower this number, the better – meaning the studio is extracting more of this “Star Power” out of their investment. That number is 543 for Tom Cruise, and only 53 for Will Smith. Not since the days of Michael Jordan has someone with a salary of $30M been called underpaid, but Will Smith over his lengthy yet selective career has been just that.
Wondering how I found the self-control to write an entire article about Tom Cruise without making a short joke? Have some matchups you want to see? Tweet me @kramerkram, leave a comment, or just vote below.