Box Office Case Study: Why 'Jack Reacher' Couldn't Muscle Through Anti-Tom Cruise Outcry

Jack Reacher invents some of the more novel ways to kick ass in all of modern crime fiction throughout Lee Child’s series of hardboiled novels and its first movie adaptation, which debuted on Christmas starring Tom Cruise in the title role. However, the mercenary tough guy failed to bring the pain to his competition at the box office this past weekend, when the film was clobbered by a bunch of underfed street urchins, vengeful slaves, peace-loving hippies from Middle Earth, and Billy Crystal’s kooky granddad.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. It would have been hard to predict another situation in which Borscht Belt shtick would appeal to more moviegoers than a big movie star doling out bone-crunching action in an adaptation of a bestselling novel. But encoded into Jack Reacher’s lackluster box office grosses is a message the filmmakers have been ignoring since the project took shape: Fans of the book know Jack Reacher, and Tom Cruise is no Jack Reacher.

A vocal outcry erupted among Reacher diehards the moment Hollywood’s 5’ 7” Top Gun expressed an interest in playing the 6’5” taciturn anti-hero – a hulking ex-military-cop-turned-vigilante, defined by his ability to overpower and intimidate by virtue of his size and cold-blooded determination to mete out justice at all costs. But the production charged ahead, ignoring widespread complaints that Cruise was not the physical specimen the role required and lacked a crucial intimidation factor that could not be fixed by platform-enhanced shoes or steroid-enhanced gym workouts.

Child wrote Reacher to be a kind of a human IED wired to explode on impact. This is a quality that exists at the cellular level. Clint Eastwood had it in his prime, as did Robert Mitchum. Among today’s most age-appropriate actors, Michael Shannon and Ryan Gosling come closest to embodying Reacher’s combination of menace, morality, and madness.

Over the past eighteen months, Tom Cruise is Not Jack Reacher Facebook pages have been erected. Petitions have circulated demanding casting recall. But even as the populist revolt gained momentum with threats to boycott the film if Cruise remained in the role, the filmmakers stood their ground while launching a counter-offensive. Christopher McQuarrie pulled triple duty as the film’s writer-director and its deflector shield, arguing that Cruise is actually perfect for the role. In a nutshell: Both Cruise and Reacher are inscrutably immune to pressure. Child chimed in early and often, claiming Cruise’s acting abilities would erase the physical disparity while pointing out Hollywood’s shortage of size-appropriate stars. Cruise, for his part, has tried to halt the hubbub by drawing comparisons between the haunted drifter and his peripatetic travels between movie sets. “It was easy, just a great character to play” insisted Cruise in the publicity run-up to the film’s release. “That’s kind of my life actually.”

In the end, everybody lost out. Disgruntled readers and a slew of lackluster reviews undermined the film’s credibility among uninitiated moviegoers. The filmmakers tarnished a sterling collaborative track record: McQuarrie has been Cruise’s clutch rewrite guy on the “Mission Impossible” movies ever since the two successfully combated an assault of bad buzz surrounding their joint effort, “Valkyrie,” a WWII thriller which went on to become a surprise critical and commercial hit, despite Cruise’s dubious eye patch and German accent. And now Child’s literary legacy remains full of unrealized potential to spawn a Dirty Harry-like cinematic icon.

While crowd-sourcing is not the answer to every casting conundrum. This is one case where everyone might have been better served by listening to the wisdom of the group.

  • Violet

    The movie was great and did not disappoint at the box office. It is expected to bring in $83 million at the box office when all is said and done. The studio wants a sequel and with Tom Cruise as one of the producers he may be back.

    • gregperry

      If 83 mill is the final tally "when all is said and done" this will be a dissapointment, considering the film cost somewhere between 50 and 60 million to produce, and that is not counting the marketing and distribution costs, as well as studio plants and other sad pr mechanisms.

      • Violet

        $83 million is a studio estimate for domestic box office. "When all is said and done” don't be surprised if there is a sequel with Tom Cruise, as he is one of the producers.

        • Herman

          I just threw up in my mouth a little after hearing the sound of cruise and sequel.

      • Gary Forsyth

        Budget reckoned at $90million. Looks like it's gonna make a loss then.

      • TJ

        It's already made over 120mil world wide with some territories yet to open. How is this not a success?

        • TJ

          And to clarify the budget was 60 million. So so far it's made 60 million over its budget and is still going steady at the BO

    • J Sandell

      That us utter nonsense. Cruise is not and will never be a Jack Reacher. I have read every book and refuse to see a 5'7" dwarf impersonate such a commanding individual as Reacher.

      • Randy

        I saw the movie before I ever heard of the books. I thought the movie was awesome, so I went out and got a couple of books. In my view, Tom Cruise NAILED the character. Yes, he is not 6'5" 250lbs... But he manages to pull it off with his attitude and style, and in EVERY OTHER way he is perfect for the role. I'm telling you, Tom Cruise is the best Jack Reacher I could imagine.

        • Nancy

          A couple of books? You should have read more than that before you watched the movie. Tom Cruise still looks like he's 12, and will never measure up to the collective Jack Reacher of our imaginations. .

    • To all the folks that probably never read a Reacher book,
      the movie cost $ 50 million to make and grossed $18 million.
      So, the Reacher fan base have spoken ,take note Lee Child,
      you sell out your baby and it was and is so much a very BIG mistake!! I like Cruise, but total miscast and Hollywood hates
      losing money or making a movie that bombs like this one did.
      Post jan 20th /2013 .
      Hoping they don`t make the same mistake twice!!
      And won`t see the next one ,just like I/we did not see this one,
      ( if there is a next one ) if casting
      is as bad as this one was.

  • gregperry

    Great article, and a breath of fresh air. Thank you Christine.

    Sadly, however, the force-feeding on viewers continues.
    After the audience and I who saw the trailer for Jack Reacher stopped laughing, I realized a few things. One: HE IS NO STEVE MCQUEEN. Then, I realized I had seen someone trying hard to sell their "star" as someone so tough, it would make Dirty Harry die of laughter--HE IS NO CLINT EASTWOOD. Then, I recalled another cringe-worthy piece of "reporting" from a few weeks ago, that he was planning on remaking The Magnificent Seven, with himself in the lead role, and realized--HE IS NO YUL BRYNNER.

    But whatever his camp wishes to force-feed us, there are still plenty of cinema-goers who are not going to spend a dime on this "comedy." BTW, another spin piece on him being the "highest paid" last year--is that salary or earnings (makes a difference considering others were paid higher salaries)?

    Also, this controversy DID occur before, with Ann Rice, who felt “Huck Finn” was playing her character; that controversy was gone, after Ms. Rice was to receive a considerable monetary deal for the adaptation with Cruise.

    Rock of Ages bombed. MI4 earned most of its money overseas, especially in places such as China, where most well-crafted US action films make a profit, regardless of its star.

    And why, why--do we have to keep being bombarded with PR-placed "theories" as to whether or not audiences will choose to see his films or not because of what they feel about his personal life? Is it not possible that they choose to not see his films simply because they have little interest or have a distaste for the films themselves?

    "Doing all his own stunts." Please. The insurance and production would never allow it. And why not give the credit to his stunt people who are very hard-working, too (and more humble)?

    Lessons learned: Question what you read now more than ever in this digital age, and don’t be afraid to laugh out loud in a movie theater.

    • Cara Downey

      Correction Gregperry, @TomCruise did do all of his own stunts in the car chase. And this particular article is not a breath of fresh air. Sorry Christine, your article more or less sounds like a Tom Cruise bashing, and not really an assessment of the movie itself or how the actor was able to pull off the powerfulness that is Jack Reacher and bring the character to life. I have seen the movie and I was really impressed at how Tom Cruise delivered. I am hoping that they continue with this particular franchise. Remember, when Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond there was a fan out cry as well. Some of Ian's die hard fans felt that Daniel did not fit the image of James Bond, but he certainly proved them wrong. And pardon me for being so blunt, but if any one has watched the movie Warrior, you do not need to be 6ft and 250 pounds to kick someone's butt. I am not sure, but Christine (Gregperry you can answer this as well), did you see the interview where the author, Lee Child stated that he was impressed at how @TomCruise delivered and brought the character of Jack Reacher to life. Lee also stated that yes, another actor could have been cast, to fulfil the description of Jack Reacher, but not deliver on everything. Tom is 6ft 250 pounds, but he sure delivered. Great Job Tom Cruise.

      • greg perry

        Cara Downey,

        Regarding your "correction" of factual data, "Correction Gregperry, @TomCruise did do all of his own stunts in the car chase," why don't we have his stunt double(s) speak and receive the credit due them, or will they be squelched? Regarding your "correction," the insurance for the film and studio would never allow him to do all his own stunts. That, is common sense, not to mention industry practice. Plus, one cannot dispute the words of those who work with both this star--and his stunt people--people I have known and worked with myself. In regards to your call for people to "just stop hating" Tom Cruise, as others have said, many do not have any hatred towards this human being whatsoever, but do have an issue with this bombardment of "audience education." Consumers and recipients of mass marketing (and digital-age, social media plants) have the right to express their disregard (and/or resentment) towards what can only be called force-feeding. In light of your Lee Childs' approval, yes, he has the right to say whatever he would like to in light of the casting of his character in public (regardless of what he expresses privately, and to himself as he makes his way to the bank).

  • Herb Friedman

    I saw the movie and it wasn't bad as an action thriller. It was as good as most Tom Cruise movies and he did a reasoable job. BUT, at no time did I ever think I was watching Jack reacher. I have read the books and I know Jack, 6'5, 250 pounds, shoulders like two basketballs. When I saw little Tommie at what 5'7, maybe 170, threatening five muggers, I cracked up. Now I repeat, I liked the movie and I like Tom Cruise. I am not a Tom Cruise hater. If you never read a book this movie might not be too bad. But, this was not Jack Reacher, not even close. It was maybe a Mission Impossible or something similar. It was one of the worst cases of miscasting I have ever seen.

  • kenny

    Look, I love the books and thought if Gerard Butler could lose his accent he would be the best choice . I had doubts but saw the movie anyways, and JUST like he did in Interview With a Vampire and Magnolia despite what people he overcame the bad buzz and gave great performances in even better movies. It's as good or better than any action movie in years, including the mission impossibles. It's a great, fun action packed film. Go see it!

    • Violet

      Agreed, I liked it, it was a good movie!!

  • Ryan


    Believe it or not, yours is the first article posted on the web that has finally indicated that the fan boycott as one of the strongest reasons for it's less then stellar box office take. A lot of the other studio hack sites are already spinning the Newton shooting as the only reason for it's bad box office take, and don't even mention the fan boycott.

    • Cara Downey

      Ryan, it is sad that the fans boycott the movie. Because they would have enjoyed a really good time. This particular article gives off the feel that it was written but a Lee Child fan who is unhappy that Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher. Yes Tom is 5'7 and 170 pounds, but that doesn't mean that he did not deliver in his performance as Jack Reacher. I have read the book and I am a fan of both the author and also Tom. I understand when a film is an adaptation of a novel. But it is apparent that most fans do not. Fans felt that way with Interview with the Vampire, and Tom Cruise knock it out of the park. And he did the same here, the movie is fun, packed with action and again, I repeat Tom Cruise did an excellent job, and he did justice to Jack Reacher. I said it before, and I will say it again, I hope that they continue with this franchise and I hope that Tom Cruise agrees to do another film. Please can people stop hating on Tom Cruise...

      • Gary Forsyth

        I'm sorry Cara, but you're completely missing the point. It's not about hating Tom Cruise - it's the simple fact that true fans of the Reacher that is portrayed in the books will NEVER be able to see him being played by Tom Cruise. It's, quite frankly, ludicrous. I quite like watching a bit of Cruise now and again, I'm certainly not a 'hater'. But please, just admit it, Tom Cruise Is Not Jack Reacher. Just say it. It's easy. The worst piece of miscasting in quite some time. Simple fact. I will NOT be seeing the film as I don't want to be seeing Tom Cruise in my head as I read the books again. Sad thing is, the film probably isn't that bad. In fact, if they had just put it out, but not linked it in any way to Jack Reacher, it might have done ok. But lets face it - $15million opening weekend for a Cruise film is a failure and there's no denying it.

        • Joan Lever

          You know who would be a great Jack Reacher, - actor Jim Caviezel of "A Person of Interest" - he hasn't got the weight of Jack Reacher but would be believable as the height because of his great bearing - and no-one can show the "resolution" of Jack Reacher on one of his trips than what Jim Caviezel could! I've read every Jack Reacher book (just got the latest one to take on my upcoming plane trip to read) -and I could believe in Jim Caviezel - I couldn't even bear to go to the movie with Tom Cruise in it - would haunt my reading of the books!

  • Metalhead

    Yep. People apparently don't know what "based on" means. I for one didn't even know the book existed before the opening credits, and I thought the movie was pure genius writing AND acting. But that's the way it is I guess. If it's not exactly the same as the book, it's no good (apparently). It's called creative freedom. Comic-book and video game movies are the same way: They take the base idea, and go from there. Most of the time it works. There are those few times where they change something that completely throws off the story, but I didn't read the book for this movie, so if the characters height is the only complaint, it's obviously a good adaptation. For this one, I honestly don't like the idea of a giant playing the role. The character works perfectly with this actor. And again, it was such a good movie. I'm glad I don't read a lot of books. That way I can enjoy movies and see why the movies themselves are great. It was awesome. So yeah.

    • Gary Forsyth

      Fair comment, and you've hit the nail on the head - if you havn't read the books and don't know the character, you'll probably enjoy the film. Trouble is, when you have and you do, then you won't.

      • Elizabeth

        That is not true. I have read, re-read, re-read and am in the process of re-reading for the 4th time, the Jack Reacher series. I LOVE the character, Jack Reacher. Was I disappointed that Tom Cruise was chosen for this role, yes because he looks nothing like Reacher, however, with that said I don't know of any actor who could live up to the description of Reacher. I went and saw the movie and while I didn't see Tom Cruise as Reacher physically, I thought he had Reacher's attitude. I thought he did a great job and was very pleased with the movie. I for 1 am hoping that we get another Reacher movie.

  • A Reacher fan

    Thank you for that article. I wish they would listen to us.

    • greg perry


      Hang in there. Your comment is also a breath of fresh air, like this article! And no, you are not going crazy, you are not alone in how you feel.

  • Mike Sullivan

    I really enjoyed the Reacher books, don't hate Tom Cruise, and won't see this movie. If you take the producers' estimated audience, subtract action movie fans who like Reacher books and won't see the movie on principle, and further subtract those action fans who dislike Tom Cruise, it doesn't leave enough to build a franchise. How many "I'm an action movie fan but I didn't know it was a book" guys and Tom Cruise die-hards are out there?

    The saddest part of this business was reading the author's cynical shilling: "The height, the size...those are characteristics, not the character." And I'll bet he wanted to see what Judy Dench could have done with the Katniss Everdeen role.

  • Reacherfan

    I've just finished reading the Reacher books and thought they were brilliant. I'm now wishing I hadn't bothered because the casting of Tom Cruise has ruined the image. Lee Child should be ashamed if he had anything to do with this. I'm not a Cruise hater, he was brilliant in Rainman but this is like casting Kenneth Williams as Rambo! I'm on to Jeffrey Deaver Lincoln Rhyme series now, saw The Bone Collecter film first and it doesn't follow the book but Jolie played a good Amelia Sachs and I can happily imagine her as the character. What a shame Reachers mis-casting has spoiled the image.

  • Carpe Cerevisi

    Christine, Awesome article.
    Metalhead, do you work for little tom, or McQuarrie? All fans of Reacher, and apparently, his own creator is not one, are absolutely appalled at this travesty. The height and weight is important, it's him, he's a huge but intelligent, physical force. I couldn't buy and read the newest reacher, because I kept seeing tiny tom's face. jim grant's greed in selling out to tom cruise will kill his book sales. He has truly killed the golden goose.

  • A discerning moviegoer

    Tom nailed it! My husband, whom is a tough, action movie type of guy and I enjoyed the movie thoroughly! I was expecting a B- and it was a solid A entertaining action flick! Tom played the righteous, army trained guy who didnt allow anything to stop him from serving justice! The recipe for this movie was genius, great story, creative chase and shoot out scenes w a dash of humor! Tom, great job!! We're looking forward to the next one!

  • ron

    This WAS a thrill-ride all the way. Big mistake to misjudge this little guy.

  • bapiiste

    Sad that a good movie and a good perfirmance gets overshadowed social media nerds. This is a well done movie.

  • Sigma

    Great movie. Tom Cruise is a phenomenal actor despite his religious issues. If I stopped watching every movie that had actors who believed in religions that I don't agree with, I wouldn't be able to watch anything. You fan boys really need to check it out and watch it for what it is. Entertainment. Reality check: the books aren't real!

  • Ben

    I'm a huge Reacher fan, and actually liked the movie. Even the action scenes. SPOILER ALERT

    The one part where size mattered was when the cops were looking for someone "who could kill a girl with one punch" and the women in the hotel said room XXX, you ought to see this guy" All I could think about was, why would anyone think Tom Cruise could kill someone with one punch..if they're going to cast Cruise in any sequels, they need to rewrite the books to address the gaps

    Besides that, I think Cruise pulled off the essence of Reacher, despite the size issues.

  • heartland

    "In the end, everybody lost out." Too true, and appreciate a terrific, well-written summation of while Jack Reacher may have passed muster from a business sense - e.g., not a total flop with "respectable" earnings IF you combine the U.S. and international box office, in the end Tom Cruise, is not, and will never be, the Jack Reacher that the series, and the dedicated fans of the series, deserved. A portion of the young male demographic crows happily online about this "success" but as evidently from the posts I've read they are mostly non-readers, and if you never read the books you'll never get introduced to the complex, intriguing force of nature that the character is - as written.

    As this article so well points out, the film may not be a failure but it's hardly a "success", in that Tom Cruise engendered laughter (and cries to keep his shirt on) and more mockery about his hubris, Lee Child has been labeled a sell-out and in some cases has actually lost readers out of disgust (especially in that his last book could have used some work and there is a horrible cheap money-making "Reacher's Rules" that is basically a $10 dollar laundry list currently getting lambasted on Amazon - the guy can't need the money that badly) and most of all the sad disappointment of the reading public.

    I know I used to preorder any Jack Reacher book months in advance but now I'll take my time. So how much, in the long run, did Paramount throw away in terms of dollars, and how stupid can you be and run a major movie corporation? It wouldn't have been that hard to cast an unknown or lesser known actor, surround with a quality cast, and introduce a major new character and a long-running franchise. Instead Paramount "played it safe" and that's what the public got - MI in Pittsburgh and a little profit. What a wasted opportunity.

  • Cobber

    I quite enjoyed the movie. I didn't think that it was great, but I thought it very good, and I got what I expected. I have never read the books, so I can't compare. It's obvious from articles that Tom Cruise is much shorter than Jack Reacher, but does it really matter all that much? I have read comics since I was a kid, and it didn't bother me all that much that Hugh Jackman is about a foot taller than Wolverine is meant to be. It also didn't bother me that Alec Baldwin is much taller than the diminutive Jimmy Dolittle that he played in "Pearl Harbour", and you would think that being accurate with an historical figure would be more important than with a character of fiction. Hollywood does this all the time. As for being intimidating, Al Pacino is short, but he was pretty intimidating as Michael Corleone. Tom Cruise also produced this movie, and I would think that fans of Lee Child's books would be happy that at least a movie got made, which it may not have if he hadn't taken an interest, and an obvious liking. I think that the box office probably took a bit of a hit because of Cruise himself, who has shown to be, well maybe a little strange would be a polite way of describing him. There is no doubt that he is a fine actor, and has the body of work to prove it, whether people like him personally or not. He has also been an A-List star since "Risky Business", way back in 1982(?). Few actors or actresses can claim that type of success. I think that worldwide "Jack Reacher" will probably cross the $200m mark, which is not too bad if reports of a $65m budget are correct. It's more of a profit margin than what the company I work for makes on the products it sells, lol! I saw the movie only last night (in Australia), and three weeks after it's release date here, the cinema was almost full. I hope they do chance a sequel.......I thought it a good enough movie, and Jack Reacher a good enough character, to warrant it.

  • ron

    Tom was SO CUTE in this. unfortunately I do hear that he won't be doing the sequel though as he has been replaced. Apparently Bilbo Baggins has a more believable screen presence as Reacher.

  • Vanroth

    I think the author of this article was too quick in judging the film as a flop. The Reacher film has gone on to make over 200 million worldwide ( check box office mojo) & that's not including box office figures from china yet. How can anyone say a movie with an estimate budget of 93 million ( including promotion) that has made over 200million ( before the end of its theatrical run & before its DVD/Blue-ray release) a flop?

  • John

    Liked the movie. Didn't like the title. Cruise could not dominate as required by the character. Tom should have done the Brad Thor-Scott horvath character and left jack reacher to a Chris Hemsworth or a John Cena. Tom, if you are producing, think about the Scott Horvath character. Very similar to MI series and with 9 books you could pick out the best 5 and have some great stories.

  • To me it is so obvious who would be a perfect Jack Reacher. The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. He not only has the physical attributes he has a track record in action films often playing ex- military. His exotic looks could be explained by having a mother from the pacific islands where Reacher's father had served.

  • Cruise actually did a half decent job.

    i am a big fan of Jack Reacher and was excited to see him come to life, Cruises cold, analytic voice worked well, his size and build do niggle at me a bit but its the only Reacher movie weve got.

    in my opinion the best cast for this role from now on are:

    Ray Stevenson
    Tomas Jane

    and mostly

    Michael Shannon

  • Randy Bombardier

    Great movie. Could be great tv run.

  • rod

    Just for fun, i would be willing to bet that "Randy" and all the others who said that cruise "nailed it" are PR flacks from the studio or some agency.

  • Stephanie Hendrickson

    As I read the Teacher books a picture form in my head about this massive (heads and shoulders above everyone) thirty something tough guy. As much as I like most of Tom Cruise's movie--- he is not Jack Teacher!

    • Robert M Teacher, but with a "R".