He went five years without a huge solo smash, though he did delight fans with a twisted supporting role in the comedy hit "Tropic Thunder" and defied expectations by earning respectable box office and reviews as an eye-patch-wearing German officer in the Hitler assassination thriller "Valkyrie."
Paramount, Cruise's long-time studio home, dumped him in 2006 over his odd behavior, and the actor went on to a failed attempt to revive the United Artists banner that resulted in the 2007 war-on-terror dud "Lions for Lambs."
Then Cruise and Paramount realized what a good thing they'd had together. He rejoined the studio for "Tropic Thunder" and last year's "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," which restored Cruise to the blockbuster ranks and generally is regarded as the franchise's best installment.
No matter what anyone thinks of his personal life, Cruise has a reputation as one of the hardest working men in show business, with an unparalleled work ethic.
"He's very focused," said Emily Blunt, his co-star in the upcoming sci-fi thriller "All You Need Is Kill" that is now shooting.
"Tom has always been nothing but professional and sweet and open and a lot of fun for me to be around," Blunt said at last July's Comic-Con fan convention, where she was preparing for the start of production on the film after months of preparation with Cruise. "I've really enjoyed working with him."
Paramount is squarely back in the Tom Cruise business with "Jack Reacher," a solid action tale with decent reviews. If fans turn up, it could be another franchise for him and Paramount, where a fifth "Mission: Impossible" film also is under consideration.
For the near future, there are no deviations from the sort of movies that have worked for Cruise in the past, no "Lions for Lambs" or "Rock of Ages." Next year, Cruise stars in the sci-fi yarn "Oblivion," playing a repairman fighting aliens on a decimated Earth. "All You Need Is Kill" is another Cruise-against-creatures tale, about a soldier caught in a time loop in which he relives his death over and over in a battle with aliens.
"Tom Cruise can viably continue to do these action films if only because he looks better than any 50 year old I've ever seen," said Karger of Fandango.com. "The one thing you hear the most about Tom Cruise as an actor is that this is the guy who commits. From 'Rock of Ages' to 'Tropic Thunder' to an action-heavy movie like 'Jack Reacher,' this is the guy. It's superhuman, the energy he puts into a performance. As long as that remains his work ethic, he can do things like this for a long time."