The Tom Cruise Oscar Failure

Paramount executives, the Academy leadership, and Oscars producers believed until last week that Tom Cruise would attend.
Paramount executives, the Academy leadership, and Oscars producers believed until last week that Tom Cruise would attend. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
March 14, 2023

It’s probably not a great thing for the Academy that the hottest topic at the Governors Ball last night was who wasn’t there. Maybe it’s because the Oscars show, despite a great Jimmy Kimmel monologue, was a relatively low-key and paint-by-numbers affair. But Tom Cruise and, to a lesser extent, Jim Cameron, kept coming up in my chats. And the overwhelming reaction to their conspicuous no-shows was basically a giant, Really?

If there’s something personal or serious that caused these guys to bail, then I apologize for this rant. But if not—and at least with Cruise, it appears not—this was a pretty massive middle finger to the Academy and to their Oscar-nominated collaborators. These guys spent most of the year talking about the importance of the movie business—the theatrical movie business—and getting fans back to seeing movies. But the moment they were “snubbed” for best actor and best director, respectively, and their movies likely weren’t winning best picture, and they were faced with a public environment where they might be the subject of some jokes, they can’t be bothered to appear at the single biggest promotional event for those movies? (Including, in Cruise’s case, the movie he was nominated for producing?) Pretty unbelievable. You think Mike Trout or Mookie Betts love playing in the lame World Baseball Classic tournament in the weeks before a 162 game MLB season? Probably not, but those guys know they’re huge stars, and fans expect to see them, so they show up to support their game. Cruise? He’s busy “working.”  

I know the Oscars is a slog, and the red carpet (or whatever beige color that was this year; I’m sure it will never appear nor be spoken of by the Academy again) can be toxic and draining. Camera phones and social media long ago ruined awards shows, at least for those who attend. But this is work, and Cruise is used to putting up with big crowds in pursuit of self-promotion and ego-stroking. The Oscars are nothing if not that.  

Plus, Kimmel was never going to really attack Cruise. Besides not being that guy, Kimmel has a late-night talk show that he’d presumably like Cruise to visit as a guest in the future, as Cruise did a couple weeks ago while campaigning for Top Gun: Maverick literally across the street from the Dolby Theater. That “L. Ron Hubba Hubba” joke was funny and pretty benign; I’m told it wasn’t even part of rehearsal, and Cruise had bailed before then anyway, so it wasn’t that line that specifically spooked Cruise. But the prospect of being the subject of Scientology jokes, as he was in absentia at the Golden Globes and the DGA Awards, that’s perhaps another matter. 

This is part of a larger problem for the Oscars, of course. Namely, nobody except Fan Bingbing wants to attend unless they’re nominated or actively flacking a project. But Cruise was nominated, and he is supposed to be the industry’s global ambassador, right? Or at least he styles himself that way. He filmed a freaking video of himself, as himself, welcoming us all to theaters before Top Gun. The shots of him in the front row of the Oscars would have been great marketing for Hollywood at an event with remarkably low star wattage. And at the very least, his colleagues—the guys who spent years on the Maverick sound that won them Oscars—would have loved to see their star producer cheering for them. That’s the respectful move, and when I talk to producers, that’s what most upset them; the lack of respect. 

According to sources, Paramount executives, the Academy leadership and Oscars producers believed until last week that Cruise would attend. (They all declined to comment; Paramount, which is afraid of Cruise’s shadow, referred me to his publicist Amanda Lundberg, which is like asking me to shout into the Grand Canyon.) Few believe the excuse that he just had to get back to Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 2, especially since his right-hand producer, Chris McQuarrie, flew to L.A. just for the show, per his Twitter.

The move would have been to incorporate Cruise into the show, having him perform a wild stunt or some other segment that made him feel special and reminded audiences why they love him and his movies. Cruise meticulously avoids situations he doesn’t control. He managed to eschew a single Scientology question during the entire global Top Gun: Maverick roll out, and even his awards season campaigning was limited to moments like Kimmel and his Producers Guild speech accepting the Selznick award. 

If sitting in the unprotected front row of the Oscars for three and a half hours, subject to commercial break conversation or host jokes and near his ex-wife Nicole Kidman, made him nervous, just work out another arrangement. Again, if there’s a serious reason I don’t know about, then disregard all of this. But if not, and many, many people around town suspect not, then the whole thing felt bush league: Hollywood failing to capitalize on its best asset, a real movie star, and the star wasting his fame and goodwill because of his own ego and insecurities. Nobody looks good here.