Five years after its box office failure, a look back at what went wrong for Cruise’s ambitious sci-fi action film and how the narrative has changed.
This week marks the five year anniversary of Edge of Tomorrow, the 2014 Doug Liman sci-fi action comedy starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.
The film tells the story of a Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a military PR man who is pressed into service on the eve of a major operation against an alien army known as Mimics. Cage is almost immediately killed in the carnage, but not before he is sprayed with alien blood. He wakes up, only to discover that he is reliving the same day over and over and over again. Eventually, he connects with the face of the human war effort, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), and learns that his unique ability to live, die and repeat may just be the key to winning the war…as long as he continues to die each day.
Critics fell over themselves to praise the film, lavishing it with a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but that appreciation didn’t carry over to the box office. Edge of Tomorrow grossed only $100.2M on a production budget of $178M.
Despite this, the public perception of the film in the intervening years has dramatically shifted and the film is now considered one of the best original sci-fi films of the 2010s. So what happened to Edge of Tomorrow and why are we still talking about it?
At the time of the film’s release, Cruise was nine years out from one of the biggest PR nightmares in contemporary showbiz history: his “couch jumping” incident on the Oprah Winfrey show. There are a slew of think pieces dedicated to the strange circumstances that transformed Cruise’s wildly enthusiastic declarations of love for then-fiancée Katie Holmes into one of the first YouTube and blogging viral sensations (see The Ringer and LA Weekly’s coverage), but the fall-out resulted in a nearly cataclysmic popularity shift for one of Hollywood’s most successful celebrities.
Tom Cruise had found mild success in the intervening years (most notably Mission: Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol, which restored the shine to the franchise after the perceived box office failure of 3). That film was part of a franchise, however; at the time of Edge of Tomorrow’s release, Cruise was in the middle of a box office slump. His last few films – the musical adaptation of Rock of Ages, the cast-against-height action film Jack Reacher, and the sci-fi film Oblivion – were all poorly received and the last film undoubtedly soured the public’s interest in another science fiction outing from Cruise.
While naysayers were quick to dismiss Edge of Tomorrow at the time of its release as just another formulaic star vehicle, the film lives and dies on Cruise’s performance. Cage is an unabashedly one-dimensional character, which means that it often feels as though the audience is actually just watching Cruise. This works because his performance has a sly self-awareness to it, as though Cruise is winking at the public’s desire to watch him die (repeatedly) in hilariously brutal ways. Behind the scenes features confirm that Cruise played a pivotal role in introducing and maintaining the film’s comedy, which is routinely highlighted as one of the film’s greatest assets in both critical reviews of the time and after-the-fact reviews from audiences.
The other challenge facing the production was Warner Brothers’ struggle to sell the film as an original property. Despite being an adaptation, Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill was relatively unknown in North America. In comparison, all of the top grossing June releases of 2014 are sequels or based-on existing properties with built-in audiences such as Maleficient, Transformers and Planet of the Apes.
The marketing of the film is routinely highlighted as the main reason for Edge of Tomorrow’s failure. The title is too bland to be memorable and it doesn’t mean anything. In fact, it is so bafflingly bad that Warner Brothers literally opted for their second choice when the film was released on DVD/BluRay: Live.Die.Repeat (which is not only catchier, but is actually far more reflective of the film’s main selling feature as an action film version of Groundhog Day).
Revisiting the trailers, it is clear that Warner Brothers was banking on Cruise’s reputation as an action star: the promos are filled with the beach invasion scenes, emphasizing Cruise in his cumbersome suit and firing weapons. There is no hint of the comedy, and co-star Emily Blunt (one of the film’s other universally praised components) is glimpsed only briefly.
Edge of Tomorrow Trailer:
Unsurprisingly the film’s opening weekend demographics reveal that the Cruise/war marketing sold the film to primarily older men. The audience was 61% male and 73% over the age of 25. Edge of Tomorrow was effectively a one quadrant film, which might have been fine if Warner Brothers was intentionally aiming to capture only a single demographic. Unfortunately the film wound up as weak counter-programming to two other juggernauts: the second weekend of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficient and the opening weekend of the adaptation of John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, which gobbled up $48.2M for first place.
Although Edge of Tomorrow followed up its $28.8M with a slight 43% drop in its second weekend and legged it out to just over $100M, the public narrative after the first weekend immediately labeled the film a financial failure. And although its worldwide gross of $370.5M is respectable, the $178M budget and ~$100M advertising budget means that the film likely did not turn a profit.
While naysayers were quick to dismiss Edge of Tomorrow at the time of its release as just another formulaic star vehicle, the film lives and dies on Cruise’s performance.
Despite the financial failure of the film, Edge of Tomorrow lived on. Rumors of a sequel began only a year after the film debuted, although the project seemed destined to rot in development hell despite numerous quotes by Liman, co-writer (and current Cruise muse) Christopher McQuarrie, Cruise and Blunt that talks were happening.
In the interim, “repeat” narratives began to gain prominence and cut across other genres, including horror with Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day (2017) and philosophical drama with Netflix’s Russian Doll (2019). Cruise also righted his status as an action superstar with two extremely well-received Mission: Impossible entries in 2015 & 2018. And after more than thirty years, he also signed-on to dust off arguably his most famous role as Maverick in a forthcomingTop Gun sequel.
Cruise’s willingness in the last few years to return to his most popular roles, his (re)confirmation as a financially viable action star by audiences, and the continued goodwill for Edge of Tomorrow eventually intersected. Last March Warner Brothers finally consented to green light an Edge of Tomorrow sequel, currently entitled Live Die Repeat and Repeat.
Somehow in the space of five years, an ambitious science fiction film with a purportedly unsellable premise, a struggling leading man and a disastrous ad campaign has undergone a complete public relations scrub and emerged as not only one of the decade’s best action films, but a potential franchise starter once again.
Happy anniversary Edge of Tomorrow – here’s hoping that your star burns even more brightly in the next half-decade.