Tom Cruise may be A-list in Hollywood, but in the hypercompetitive world of celebrity magazines, he has slipped to the B team.
For Cruise, whose last film, “War of the Worlds,” grossed nearly $600 million at box offices worldwide and whose new film, “Mission: Impossible III,” has just been released, the task of moving $1.99 magazines would seem like a mission most possible.
But Cruise’s behavior in recent months — public stances against anti-depressants and psychiatry; his whirligig wooing of the younger Katie Holmes; his devotion to Scientology, silent births and all — have many magazine editors loath to put him on their covers for fear he has alienated their women readers.
“He was such a stud; my generation dreamed of marrying him,” said Debra Birnbaum, editor in chief of Life & Style Weekly, whose readership is 99 percent women. “Now, he’s turning women off. I wouldn’t put him on [the cover] without Katie, that’s for sure.”
Few people thrive on the woes of Hollywood stars like the editors of celebrity magazines. Controversy sells: Last year’s top-selling People and Us Weekly covers featured Jennifer Aniston embroiled in a nasty split from former husband Brad Pitt, with the blurbs “Jen Breaks Her Silence” and “Enough,” respectively.
What’s more, high-selling covers are crucial to a magazine’s success. Newsstand sales are highly profitable, because, unlike subscribers, people buying the magazine off the shelf pay full price.
At the same time, picking covers that sell is as much instinct as science — and for the moment, Cruise isn’t stirring the guts of many editors.
Us Weekly’s editor in chief, Janice Min, said sales of Cruise and Cruise-Holmes covers do “just average” among Us’ 70 percent female readership.
“Women who are buying Us would like to get swept up in and vicariously experience this glamorous life they think celebrities lead,” she said. “There’s not a lot of women who want to vicariously experience what’s going on” in Tom and Katie’s lives.
Michelle Lee, executive editor of In Touch Weekly, hasn’t put Cruise on the cover in 2006, though she is not against it. “Speaking as a woman, I’m completely turned off by him,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t find him totally intriguing — in a way because of his outrageous behavior. I’ll read any story about him, and I loved looking at all those pictures of Katie and her belly — is it real or fake? It’s still fascinating.”
Min cited the exchange Cruise had recently on “Prime Time Live” with Diane Sawyer, in which he claimed he hadn’t had a cold in as long as he could remember — because of Scientology.
“The world is not black and white in the way it’s presented in the Tom Cruise universe,” Min said. “This sort of infallibility he projects doesn’t make him relatable to women, who like to see some human unveiling in their celebrities.”
Another problem, Min added, is the infamous Cruise control. “He’s been so effective at keeping the private life he and Katie have secret,” she said. “People buy magazines to find out things they don’t know. We did a cover story that went into his Scientology beliefs . . . but that’s about the extent that anyone can scratch the surface of Tom and Katie.”
Lovebirds Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the cover draws of the moment, Birnbaum said. “Angelina Jolie has created this image of a happy family [with Pitt],” she explained. “This is a great love story, you feel. Tom Cruise, he’s traveling around the world promoting [“Mission: Impossible III”] just after Katie’s given birth. It’s a negative story that people can’t relate to.”
Cruise’s “Q Score,” a widely used tool in the entertainment industry that measures a performer’s popularity, indicates Cruise hasn’t endeared himself to the public, and especially women, in recent months.
Generated by Marketing Evaluations Inc., Cruise’s Q Score ranged from 27 to 30 percent in studies done in 2000, ’02 and ’04. His negative rating — the percentage of people who said their opinion of him was “fair” or “poor” — ranged from 12 to 14 percent.
But in 2006, his Q Score dropped to 19 percent, and his negative rating soared to 31 percent.
Steven Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations, added that Cruise’s Q Score among women has plummeted , though he declined to give exact figures.
“He’s turned off people and especially women, because of the topics he’s chosen to speak out about,” Levitt said, citing Cruise’s public criticism of actress Brooke Shields’ use of anti-depressants in treating her postpartum depression.
Still, Levitt has no doubt “Mission: Impossible III” will be another blockbuster. “In real life, he’s turning people off. On the movie screen, he’s involved in being someone else.”