The 14-year relationship between Cruise's production company and Paramount exploded Tuesday after Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount parent Viacom Inc., said Cruise's recent behavior, such as jumping on Oprah Winfrey's couch and aggressively advocating Scientology, was "creative suicide." Redstone said such displays cost the studio up to $150 million in lost ticket sales for Cruise's last film, "Mission: Impossible III."
Redstone may have been basing some of his reaction on the fact that negative public perception of Cruise has soared in the past six months in the closely watched Q Scores, which rate celebrity popularity. They indicate that negative perception of Cruise jumped nearly 100 percent since mid-2005, while positive perception fell about 40 percent.
"He's definitely at his low point in terms of consumer appeal, among both males and females," said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., the Q Scores company.
Whether that means moviegoers are spurning his films is a different matter, says film producer Peter Guber, who has worked with Cruise in such movies as "Rain Man" and a "A Few Good Men."
"One would have to believe he will remain luminous in the near term," said Guber, chairman of Mandalay Entertainment Group and host of AMC's "Sunday Morning Shoot-out."
"He didn't go out and kill somebody. He didn't drive drunk. He didn't beat up his wife," Guber said. "I think he will remain a top star in the business and command a great deal of attention and bring in a great deal of revenue."
The public is notoriously fickle when it comes to movie stars, although Cruise has sustained broad popularity longer than most.
Nor does Cruise face the same kind of challenge that's confronting Mel Gibson, who spouted anti-Semitic remarks after being stopped for drunk driving.
"It's probably going to take more time to get back to where he was in consumer popularity," Schafer said of Cruise. "If he comes out in the next year or so with a big hit movie, that will help."
Variety editor Peter Bart says that fundamentally, the dispute was not about Cruise's behavior but about finances, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.
"I think people are misinterpreting this as though it was really about what Tom Cruise was advocating or about Scientology or about Brooke Shields. That's not the way Hollywood works. Hollywood is about power and money," said Bart.
The acrimonious split comes at a time when studios are slashing costs, especially the kind of huge paychecks that stars such as Cruise have commanded, even for production deals. Paramount was reportedly paying his company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, $10 million a year to develop new projects.
"We're talking about a guy who makes $20 million to $25 million up front as an actor," Brett Pulley, a senior editor at Forbes magazine, told Mason. "Then there's also an additional 20 percent of the back-end profits. In addition he's getting a producers fee and he's getting back-end participation as a producer.
"He is a big star," noted Pulley. "But they're saying we don't think he should be the highest paid star in Hollywood anymore."